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RJB Students Learn What it Takes to Make a Community Garden Grow

Avery, a fifth grader at RJB, stands over a desk in Mrs. Parker’s family consumer science class, shifting through packets of seeds. Ultimately, she decides on mint and green beans. “I’m going to start a garden at home,” she says. Her classmate, Uli, also chooses mint seeds and picks up a bag of native wildflower seeds. “I have a garden at home,” she says. “We grow parsley, sage, oregano, and chives. My mom likes to cook and uses the herbs from our garden. The wildflowers will help with pollination, and I picked mint because I like the way it smells.”  Mrs. Parker’s seed-sharing activity is a way to build a community around the recent restoration of RJB’s outdoor garden to bridge a school-to-home connection. 

The RJB Community Garden project started in the spring of 2023. Its transformation from the small garden that was donated by the Girl Scouts of America -  and brought back to life through a liaison with Manhattanville College - has been a result of district-wide effort. Mrs. Parker, who is on the GCSD SEL Committee, knows the benefits of the garden will be many. “Being outside in the sunshine, engaging in physical activity, and building something with your own hands is a rewarding experience for students,” she said. “The garden activities promote physical, mental, and social emotional well-being. It also connects beautifully to the IB transdisciplinary theme of sharing and caring for the planet because home and school gardens help the environment.” 

On a sunny day, Mrs. Parker takes the students out to the garden to finish the work of filling the raised beds inside the new fence enclosure. As some of the students comb through the soil for larger rocks to place them at the bottom of the beds, others are filling buckets with soil, and adding recycled materials that will naturally decompose, like wood and pieces of cardboard. Mrs. Parker explains that it’s important to keep the garden as organic as possible. Mr. Pugliese, GCSD Director of Facilities and Operations, joins Mrs. Parker and the students in the garden. Shortly after, Mr. Alvarez arrives with a delivery of wood chips for ground coverage around the beds and several chairs made from tree trunks. The wood pieces used for filling the beds, wood chips, and stumps all come from downed trees on the Woodlands campus. “This garden has come a long way in a year and a half,” said Mr. Pugliese. “It’s a great example that there is nothing that can’t be done.”

Mrs. Parker looks forward to the community’s involvement in the garden for years to come. “One of the reasons we chose to use deep raised beds was to make it accessible for community members of all ages and abilities,” she said. “Research has shown that individuals living in "Blue Zones" which are geographic regions that harbor some of the world’s healthiest, longest-living inhabitants have several things in common. A few of which are daily physical activities such as gardening, and they do it together. Our garden hopes to foster community, connection and resilience.”

Sophia is a student member of Mrs.Parker’s RJB Gardening IB Exhibition group. On this day, as she works in the garden, she talks about the experience “I enjoy gardening because it’s calming and makes you stronger,” she said. “I can’t wait to see the butterflies helping to pollinate the wildflowers and I’m excited for when we are able to take home what we have grown.”