Windermere Elementary students ready to dig in to learning garden

Windermere Elementary's learning garden should be ready for next school year. Students will be able to learn classroom and gardening concepts in tandem.


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  • | 10:51 p.m. May 11, 2016
  • Southwest Orange
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WINDERMERE  Like many American parents, Amalie Skorman has striven for years to encourage healthy dietary habits in her children.

After a three-year process, she and others at Windermere Elementary have been celebrating the recent start of construction on the school's learning garden.

“The overall idea is to pretty much bring the community together to benefit the students,” Skorman said. “I started finding out a long time ago the different things that were in our food and how processed our food was. I started making changes at home, and I noticed kids really do like things that are fresh, and it's ultimately better for them.”

That led to Skorman spearheading a campaign for this garden to better educate students about the importance of what is in their foods and where ingredients – particularly produce – come from. She visited other schools, such as Fern Creek Elementary in Orlando, where she noticed a magnificent garden despite being in a metropolis. It evolved into a hands-on learning space for math, social studies, arts and, of course, sciences.

“I realized that's something that we can benefit from, kind of an outdoor classroom,” Skorman said. “They just connect the garden to the curriculum, and the kids don't even realize they're learning, because they're having fun playing in the dirt.”

For Windermere Elementary's garden, Skorman envisions a pergola with shade and seating arrangements to reduce anxiety and enhance learning. Each grade will get a bed to grow vegetables of their choice in, with different growing seasons for fall, winter and spring, she said. One lesson could be growing, harvesting and combining ingredients for personal pizzas, she said.

“I've seen a school where they'll bring pizza dough and cheese, and then they'll go out to the garden and get tomatoes, basil and oregano,” Skorman said. “They'll crush the tomatoes to make sauce and then make the little individual pizzas back in the classroom. It's a lot of fun; the kids really like it; and it's a lot healthier. It teaches them a tomato doesn't come from a can – it comes from a plant.”

The garden also will include a non-citrus fruit orchard, thanks to community donations, she said. The school PTA helped to raise funds; Whole Foods provided a $2,000 grant; Windermere Tree Board donated means for the orchard; Windermere Gardening Club offered money; and a parent promised irrigation services.

“And then I have a bunch of parents who are ready to come and get dirty,” Skorman said. “One time, we had to bring a bunch of compost to plant a little butterfly garden, and I had way too many parents show up with their shovels. ... We have one truckload of compost, and it took us 15 minutes. I thought it would take us an hour-and-a-half.”

Even the students have chipped in. Windermere Elementary won an Evergreen Packaging and KidsGardening.org contest last year, which meant $1,000 for learning supplies for the garden, Skorman said. Students collected cartons to learn methods of reuse, reduced consumption and recycling, such as building structures from the cartons and filling them with soil and plants, she said. The Tech Club shot the video of the project to submit for this contest.

At this point, irrigation is the next step for the area the garden will be in, with other phases coming throughout summer Skorman said. The orchard will have to wait until winter to avoid shocking the trees from heat, she said.

Skorman hopes healthy restaurants and similar businesses will also hop on the bandwagon and have personnel teach students and parents about gardening and healthy living. She is also trying to connect teachers to an edible foods workshop to help them tie their curricula to the garden.

“I'm happy that I didn't give up or stress about it, because we've had all these amazing things come out of it,” she said. “Everyone wants to be a part of it – it's exciting.”

 

Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected]

 

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