Left: Seedlings planted in August by fourth grade students, Big Buddies to Kindergarten and TK students, were quick to grow in the Lettuce Grow Farmstand Tower Garden.
Right: Fourth grader Maya Benveniste, Big Buddy to Transitional Kindergartener Aspen Childers, sampled the zucchini they grew.
Children are a lot like gardens. When they are nourished, they grow and though the growth may be imperceptible and may seem slow, but when they are ready they surprise us with their knowledge.
My students are four and five years old, and in my class—their first big school experience—they are navigating social-emotional skills and learning skills needed for their academic learning including fine motor skills, listening, and how to learn together in a classroom. In August, they arrived with wide-open eyes, ready like little sponges, to soak up everything. They developed friendships and we established relationships together. They started out needing a lot of direction and in the past three months, they have developed independence, learned to help each other, and learned from each other. They have learned to find their way to the cafeteria, hiked to the amphitheater and created familiar games of pretend. Participating in projects and activities together has helped forge their relationships and opened their eyes to the possibilities of learning at Topanga Elementary Charter School (TECS).
This past spring, fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Kelly Welch and I wrote a Whole Kids Foundation Garden Grant, and while we were finalists, we did not get the grant. However, as finalists, we were eligible for a Lettuce Grow Farmstand Tower Garden Grant! I immediately said, “Yes, we are interested!” In August, our Farmstand arrived and with the help of our TECS garden angel, Tony Vitullo, the garden was set up on the Transitional Kindergarten/Kindergarten (TK/K) yard. It needed access to water and a plug, both of which we had.
A week later, our seedlings arrived and our Big Buddies (Mrs. Welch’s fourth-grade class) helped us plant the seedlings. The pre-sprouted seedlings are non-GMO, pre-grown plants that are quickly ready to harvest. The garden is hydroponic, using 1 gallon of water per week and nutrients are added weekly. We planted zucchini, peppers, mint, basil, kale, small tomatoes, arugula, and green onions. A Room K parent volunteer, Jenny Atkins, has been helping weekly, testing the Ph balance of the water, and adding nutrients. We have learned a lot about plant placement for the best harvest, and we have some critters that ate our tomatoes, but the children enjoyed tasting the zucchini we harvested. All the children took home a little bag of basil and the next day we talked about how we used the basil in a recipe that night.
In August, most of my TK students were four years old, the age of many of the fourth-grade students who were in my class when they were small. They are very eager Big Buddies and it has been a joy to watch as they build relationships together and participate in activities such as gardening, reading together, creating art projects, writing projects together, and we are beginning to learn winter songs for our winter holiday program. The TK kids are so excited to see their Big Buddies around campus and the fourth-graders love to stop by to say “Hi!” at dismissal. These relationships are so special and, together, Mrs. Welch and I enjoy planning activities for the children.
We will be harvesting the remainder of our crop before Winter Break and cleaning the Farmstand in preparation for winter planting when we return. The Lettuce Grow (lettucegrow.com) company sells the seedlings and offers seasonal bundles of plants for specific areas to ensure-a good harvest. We are all excited to see what we will plant next!
TECS is also gearing up to plant in our raised garden beds recently filled with soil and compost, and the drip system is repaired and working. Each class in Transitional Kindergarten, first, second, and fourth grades, will have a raised bed. The classes in Room 6-10 will use the container gardens located outside their classrooms. All the children will enjoy a garden experience with parent volunteers and the School Safety and Beautification Committee is looking into a more official garden program and teacher.
As we work toward our school goals of respect, responsibility and good citizenship, it is so wonderful to have our Big Buddies and mentors!