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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

Weatherstone Elementary: Engaging Students and Teachers in the Edible Garden

Students and families planted the fall garden at Weatherstone Elementary on Sept. 10.

What began as a conversation between the parent of a kindergartner and her teacher at Weatherstone Elementary School in Cary in 2015 evolved into the birth of a beautiful edible learning garden during the 2016-2017 school year. Remington Ham, who has a background in landscape architecture and edible landscapes, led the way as a parent volunteer in coordinating the garden design and implementation.

Getting students, plus parents and teachers excited about the garden was key in the planning process for this learning garden. Beyond parent meetings, where there was significant interest, Ham knew she needed the students to be involved.

“To get students excited was important, so I worked with the STEM coordinator, who connected me to the 4th grade teaching team. I asked how the students could be part of this garden planning process and invested in it,” Ham said. Because there is a unit on area and perimeter in 4th grade, it was simple to connect the garden site to the unit.

“We worked with six classes and created site parameters; we and told the students the area and size they had to work with, the planter boxes and their sizes, and gave them the cost of items and a $3,500 budget. Then we told them to come up with a design with the planters, a tool shed, a seating arrangement and some other things, and we told them to be creative as to what they would like to see in the garden,” Ham said.

Fall planting day

She made a presentation to the students introducing landscape architecture and design, introduced the profession and a way to talk about designing even something as small as a garden. Students then worked in teams of four, and each class selected a favorite design. Those six designs were then presented to Ham, parent volunteers and the teachers. “It was a really fun exercise and we got some great feedback. It was so exciting to see their drawings and their design rationale,” she said.

They took it a step further and the same groups of students then turned their drawings into Lego models, with each Lego representing a planter box, for example, so that they could envision the garden in model form.

When the school received funding in January 2017 ($5,000 from a Lowes Toolbox for Education grant and $500 from the Cary Women’s Club) and then approvals from WCPSS and the Town of Cary for fencing and an arbor in March, everyone wanted to put the garden in, even though it was late in the school year. So on May 7, Ham and others coordinated the first build day and invited the entire school and local communities to participate.

Cool weather veggies will be growing soon at Weatherstone’s school garden.

“It was an overwhelming response,” Ham said. “It was really great to see all the kids, parents and most importantly the staff—that was the most amazing thing for me—the teachers and the assistant principal actively building the space,” she continued.

Over the summer, campers at the school and family volunteers maintained the garden, and with the new school year underway, the garden continues to thrive. “It was awesome to watch our 4th grade students take a leadership role in the design of the garden. Our summer camp kids loved helping take care of the garden this summer,” said Jennifer Zoller, the STEM Coordinator at Weatherstone. “We are excited to work with the PTA and classroom teachers enhance our curriculum by creating project based learning units that enable each grade level to take an active role in the planting and upkeep of the garden.”

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