An on-campus garden grown by students at Colonial Hills Elementary School is using nature to teach the value of healthy living, with some produce being used in the cafeteria.
The garden grew from an idea planted by the Colonial Hills Kids School Health Advisory Council, which teaches and implements healthy-living strategies.
“I am a true believer of having gardens at schools,” said PTA President Joseph Trevino. “They teach our students the building blocks of a great future.”
Starting with a dream four years ago to nurture a garden, the school formed a Kids Garden Club as well as a Garden/Nutrition Committee involving students, community partners, teachers, administrators and parents.
The gardening project gives students a sense of pride and responsibility, according to officials. The school is at 2627 Kerrybrook Court.
“I was personally drawn to forming a school garden,” said Terri Pitts, a physical education and health teacher who helps coordinate the wellness council. “I had taken a few workshops on the benefits of gardens in schools and thought it would be compatible with our school.”
Added Principal Jana Mascorro, “Our Colonial Hills garden is a source of pride for all involved. I love how students can see with teamwork a full cycle of garden (planting seeds) to cafeteria table (produce). It’s a source of satisfaction to see how our community has embraced what the students are doing in our garden.”
The garden is maintained through student work, grants and community partners.
It has 12 raised cedar beds and also two smaller table-garden beds. There also is a cedar garden toolshed with stepping stones leading to the shed. A local garden company donated the soil and mulch for the beds, which are surrounded by a cast-iron fence. Five large limestone formations on a cement foundation are used as tables or seats for an outdoor classroom.
Last spring, vegetation planted in the garden marked the project’s second phase.
“Each grade level was given two beds, and they were able to decide what they wanted to plant,” Pitts said. “Clear plastic cups, seeds and soil were dropped off at each classroom. (The kindergarten) planted tomatoes and peas.”
According to Pitts, first-graders sowed a variety of tomatoes; second-graders planted lettuces; third-graders added vegetables and affectionately called their plot the “Salad Garden”; fourth-graders planted herbs, spinach and broccoli; fifth-graders planted herbs and broccoli; and special-education pupils contributed cucumbers and flowers.
“Our garden grew beautifully and all students were able to witness the plant cycle,” Pitts said. “This past fall we had produce go from the garden to the cafeteria. We made coleslaw and it was delicious. The students picked carrots and cabbage and delivered them to the cafeteria staff. The staff prepared the coleslaw for students and faculty staff members to sample. Students who normally do not like vegetables were willing to try the coleslaw, because it grew in the school garden.”
The kids say they are having a great time.
“There are so many great vegetables in our garden, and they are healthy for our bodies and taste great,” said fifth-grader Robert Rodriguez.
“The garden helps us learn about the plant cycle, water conservation and composting,” added Samantha Contreras.
Plans for the garden include introducing the students to water conservation.
Two grants will help with the initiative — one from Verizon for $15,000 and another for $500 from the Mayor’s Fitness Council.
“This money will be used to add a cistern with a drip-irrigation system,” Pitts said. “We also want to increase our garden by adding different kinds of garden beds… We are currently working with an Eagle Scout on this near-future project.”
An additional project for March includes building a butterfly garden with help from the Witte Museum and District 1 Councilman Roberto Treviño, Pitts said.
According to the health and education teacher, the garden is not just a place for plant science and ecology, but is also enhancing art, music, math, technology, engineering and creative writing.
“Students learn about sharing and teamwork, as well as the interconnected web of life,” Pitts said. “Gardening gives our school a way of helping students identify with their school and to feel proud of their own individual contribution. Students know which plants they helped to grow, and they feel proud of them.”
This improves students’ attitudes about school and enhances self-esteem, she added.
Educators and parents said the lessons students have learned while gardening will serve them well through the years.
“I look forward to the future developments we have planned. My hope is for all students involved to make this experience an integral part of their way of life,” Mascorro said.
“I see how this will affect the students in their future,” said Harold Hoenow, a parent of a student. “I think the students knowing where their food comes from is invaluable.”