Towering sunflowers! Genuine pumpkins! And even a “pizza garden!”
Students returning to West Salem Elementary (Go, Cardinals!) checked out the fruits of their Spring project: Huge plants, spilling colorful bounty from six raised beds.
“We all are thrilled with our Community Garden,” said Principal Trula Byington. “It involved the whole school.”
It’s a very “hands-on” experience — even for those claiming no green thumbs. Big fun, but meeting solid educational goals.
Some Salem City Schools administrators and physical education teachers sprouted the idea. It’s funded by a three-year Carol M. White federal grant to help improve the Physical Education Program, said PEP Grant Coordinator Thomas Barber. The goal is to add such gardens to all Salem elementary schools.
It’s a great way to teach kids (and perhaps their parents) about gardening and healthy eating, he wrote via email. It also ties in to “other instructional areas”: Science (the life cycle) and math (“understanding the diameter and perimeter of the garden beds”).
And it is truly a community garden, he added. The Va. Cooperative Extension Service trained WSE teachers. Then City Horticulturalist Laura Reilly, her staff, the Turf Store and Lowe’s donated supplies and helped build the garden beds.
Teachers “really ran with it… especially Natalie DiFusco-Funk,” he said. The fifth-grade teacher claims “no really green thumb,” but had participated at a previous school. So she volunteered to be garden coordinator.
That meant she designed each grade’s “floor plan,” bought plants and seeds, set up / ran planting day (with Thomas), and organized weekly rounds of summer volunteers to “babysit” the garden. (Custodian James Jordan and staff made sure it was tended if the student / family — or Ma Nature — missed watering it.)
Each grade level chose a theme connected to its curriculum, she emailed. K, Rainbow Garden: flowers in colors of the rainbow. 1st grade, Stoplight (colors): peppers, squash, marigolds. 2nd, Butterfly: butterfly bush, sunflowers (“grown from seeds! 2nd-graders will be excited to see how tall they are,” she said). 3rd, Pizza Patch: tomatoes, basil, sage, peppers. 4th, Monticello (everything is edible): lettuce, beans, etc. 5th, Three Sisters (Native American tradition): corn, beans and squash.
Art teacher Ashley Harmon painted charming signs for each theme.
Kids said they really enjoyed the planting day (held near Earth Day). “Every single child in the school put either a seed or a plant / flower in the garden,” Natalie emailed. “This was a great experience for the kids (although we ended up with some crowded garden beds!).”
Already she has ideas about how to improve the garden for next year.
The now-lush garden is a cheery spot behind the school. Nearby is a compost tumbler, and a small stage and benches under a pergola: A place ready to teach eager kids about such wonders of the planet.
Here’s to a good “growing” year for all Salem / Glenvar schools — with no mean weeds!