Earth Day volunteers add six gardens to schoolyard

Jay Gavin, a kindergartener at Sandburg Elementary, stood atop the pile of soil that would soon fill six freshly constructed wooden frames. The topsoil blackened his bare feet and dirt smudges outlined the corners of his smile.

Jay was part of a group of students, staff, and parents of Sandburg Elementary School who celebrated Earth Day by tripling the number of vegetable gardens in their schoolyard.

Jay’s mom, Melissa Gavin, helped organize the school’s community to add six new, raised garden beds to Sandburg’s existing three.

“I want kids to know that food comes out of the ground, not the grocery store,” Gavin said.

Approximately 40 people, half of whom were children, came to install the new gardens.

Although the wheelbarrows came up to their waists, kids eagerly unloaded soil into the long wooden boxes.

Parent Teacher Association (PTA) Co-President, Gina Richardson, said she was ecstatic so many people had come to help. Richardson estimated that about 30 percent of people assisting with garden construction were volunteering at Sandburg for the first time.

Shirmiel Duncan, mother of three Sandburg students, confirmed that it was her first time helping at the school. Her first grade daughter, JaLiyah, had brought home a flyer announcing the Earth Day event and Duncan thought it sounded like a good opportunity to help out.

“I think the gardens will be a great learning experiment for the students,” Duncan said. “I’d like to garden at home but we don’t have space at the apartment.”

Duncan’s kindergartener, Jimmiyah, said she’d like to grow her favorite vegetables, peas and broccoli, with her class. Jay and Jimmiyah both stood on the topsoil pile wielding shovels twice their size to fill an empty wheelbarrow.

“My favorite part of gardening is planting. I like to see the beautiful things grow,” Jay said.

The wonder of growing things is part of the reason Principal Brett Wilfrid is excited for the school to have gardens beds for teaching. Sandburg’s teachers are paired into ten teams. Each team will have a garden space for their students.

Fourth and fifth grade teacher, Chris Rago, sees opportunities for using a garden in almost every subject he teaches.

“We can measure the garden for math, talk about community building for social studies, watch things grow for science,” Rago said. “We can write stories about the garden or just use it as a place to go on a nice day.”

Wilfrid and Gavin both spoke of the gardens as an outdoor oasis for students and Gavin said she can’t wait to see the beds planted.

“This is what happens when you get a leader to inspire a community,” Wilfrid said, referring to Gavin’s initiative. He was excited for the kids to come back to school Monday to see six new garden beds.

From constructing the frames to dumping the last bits of soil from an empty tarp, Sandburg Elementary’s enthusiastic team tripled their school’s gardens in under three hours.

As volunteers washed their hands and waited for Glass Nickel’s donated pizza to arrive, Jay turned his attention to his new friend, an earthworm who he debated naming Squirmy. Nearby, a younger boy yanked a handful of grass from the ground and sprinkled it into the fresh garden bed. Spreading a thin soil layer over top of his “seeds,” he patted it down and hoped for the best.

Rago said he’ll let his students decide what to plant in their class plot. He’s already heard a few suggestions for strawberries.

Last year, Rago landscaped the school’s entry with his students and said they loved getting outside for the project. He looks forward to having students work together to create the garden and the feeling of accomplishment they’ll have when it’s growing.

“I want kids to feel good about themselves for maintaining something,” Rago said. “When they walk by school they’ll see the garden and think, ‘I did that.’”