In praise of volunteers

This morning I scrolled back through the blog in search of pictures for a project.  Remembering all of the things we have accomplished over the last ten years is overwhelming and encouraging. NONE of it would have happened without the generous help of volunteers.

This year I am working on building up our group of core volunteers, and we have had some amazing people step up.  Danielle is a mother of four children in our district and a recent addition to our school board.  She checked in with me at one of our new “Watering, Weeding, and Working Wednesdays.”  I was showing her some of the deferred maintenance projects, and she lit up at the mention of our cedar legacy table.  If you don’t know the background of our AMAZING table, please click here.  It’s one of our best stories.

The Legacy Table:  A Little Tale of Reinvesting, Rebuilding and Reinvesting

The table was in need of a little TLC.  It has been a long time since we have cleaned it and treated it with rosewood oil.  Danielle, along with all of her kids, brought out a sander and tools, and they restored it beautifully!  She said teachers were coming out to thank her for her work on it, and when I profusely thanked her, she said she was happy to do it because her family loves our school so much.  And we love them.  ALL THE GOOD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN SCHOOL GARDENS!

Food Day, I

Thank you’s have been sent, accounting is done, now all that is left to do for Food Day 2016 is the storytelling.  As always, it’s a big story so I am breaking it into parts.

If you’ve followed along, you know that for the last three years we have celebrated National Food Day with a full day of experiential workshops on cooking, nutrition and agriculture at Julian Elementary and Julian Junior High.  (See posts from past years here, here, here, and here.)

One partnership I’d like to highlight is our partnership with Sun Dog Art Studios of Ramona.  Tomi and Teal, the talented, warm, vision-filled artists behind this non-profit, partnered with us last year (“Soda is the monster we need to mash”) and joined us again this year to create “bee spas” with the children (small basins from which bees can safely drink.)  They put a lot of time and research into creating the project from scratch, we collected tons of materials, and student were able to learn about the importance of pollinators and then take home a beautiful product.

The beautiful visual aids Sun Dog created to go with the lesson:

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Days ahead of Food Day, Sun Dog glued 110 glass basins to the glass jelly, olive, and mason jars to make a basin with a pedestal.

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Students then painted the “baths” as well as a big stone to sit in the middle of gravel and glass gems. (An “island” or a landing spot for the bee.)

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Once dry, the baths were sent home with students (carefully! in boxes with bubble wrap) and a selection went to the Julian library for a display.

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Thank you Sun Dog once again for your delightful partnership!  We love that a beautiful art project is a key part of our Food Day celebrations!

“Soda is the monster we need to mash!”

As part of our Food Day program, Sun Dog Art Studios led an anti-soda art project at the junior high.  Each student made a “monster” out of a soda can in thirty minutes using construction paper, puffy paint, scissors, straws and pipe cleaners.  Teal and Tomy, the founders and art teachers of Sun Dog, were a delight to work with, and I highly recommend them to any school or organization in San Diego County.

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Sun Dog made these samples with information on soda consumption which they left with us to incorporate into our displays.

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Librarian Colleen allowed us to hang half of the collection behind the checkout counter at the Julian Library the next day.  The collection will stay up through the end of November.

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I hung the other half at the Wolf Den, the junior high multipurpose room.

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Stay tuned for more wonderful reports from Food Day 2015…..

 

A little idea: “garden treasure hunts”

Last week I made this poster on 11×14 paper, with color clipart, and laminated it.

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Then looking at a jigsaw puzzle template online, I scored it into pieces with a ballpoint pen.

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I cut the puzzle into pieces, re-laminated each piece so all of the edges were sealed, and hid them in the garden.  When I took the K students out for afternoon garden class, they hunted for the pieces, returning to the table to fit it together.  I had little rolls of masking tape on the table to help the pieces stay together.

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After we assembled the message, I passed out magnifying glasses and we went looking for signs of fall.

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In the process, we discovered a stick bug.  We made a circle and gently passed it around.

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And then we posed for this picture!  I love how this activity turned out and plan to make a set for each season.  Fun way to end: I gave each student a piece and they re-hid them for my next class—almost as much fun as finding them!

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Back to school, back to the garden

It’s still August, and we’ve been in school for 2.5 weeks.  (I know, I know.)  Nonetheless, it has been wonderful to be back out in the garden with the lovable children of Julian Elementary.

During our first afterschool garden class with the little ones, we read stories about grapes and then gobbled some up.  (It was my first time reading  Lousy, Rotten, Stinkin’ Grapes by Margie Palatini, and I recommend this retelling of an Aesop’s Fable—great vocabulary and beautiful illustrations.)  Though we had a lovely crop of grapes at the beginning of the school year, the kids have been loving them too as they walk by the fence line and so we supplemented with a donation of organic grapes from Miss Anne!  (A note on the whiteboard in the staff room turned up an offer of backyard produce in no time.)

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The older children in my second garden class painted letters for our Early Start Kindergarten alphabet garden and spruced up the compost bucket.  This was a good, quiet activity in the shade on a very hot day.  And helpful too—every year these letters have to be repainted.

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“S” for sage….sweltering…in the sun….

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In garden class during the school day, I worked with first grade students on understanding the recipe for compost using the visual aid I made below.  The laminated pictures stick to the black bin (foam board) with velcro:

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Then we headed out to the garden to practice sorting and adding ingredients at the bin and peeking in the bottom of the unit to see what became of last year’s school lunch.

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I heart generating excitement and mystery in the garden.  During our introduction to the lesson in the classroom, I told the kids to always be on the lookout for something new in the garden and wondered aloud if anyone would notice the brand new “Mr. Tree.”  Invariably someone would spot it on our way to the compost bins.

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(Sidenote:  Marisa gave me the pieces for this “tree face,” Chris hung it, and I love it so much.  It is my new goal to put a face on every juniper behind the fence line and create our own army of ents.)

While I had half of the class at the bins, the classroom teacher had the other half under the plum tree reading Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals.

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With the two kindergarten classes, we talked about grapevines and our first garden rule for the year:  Be Safe.  We decided we would practice “being safe” by walking in the garden instead of running.

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While the classroom teacher read The Fox and the Grapes by Mark White, I toured the children around four major features in the garden, and we learned these vocabulary words:  Kandu Gate, rainwater, grapevine and gazebo.  At each location I gave a child a photo of the feature to hold (printed from a picture and laminated—I plan to make a set of these for everything in the garden for games and vocabulary review.)

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Then when we returned to the classroom for wrap-up, we sang:

“Have you ever seen a garden, a garden, a garden?  Have you every seen a garden? A garden like mine?  With a gate, and rainwater, and grapevines and a gazebo?  Have you ever seen a garden, a garden like mine? “

This is a song I will sing all year long with the younger grades, inserting new, seasonal vocabulary.

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It’s going to be a great year!  (Signing off with a picture of the invaluable cart I wheel around with everything I need in the classroom and out in the garden.)  BTW, as of today, I am about 200 clicks short of 30,000 views on this blog.  Thanks ever so much for following our story as it unfolds in our little school garden…..

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Things I’ve learned about teaching… and beetles

One thing I’ve learned about garden education is that there are many tasks that just do not lend themselves to large classes of students.  There simply isn’t enough space for 25 or more kids to stand around a raised bed, or have his/her own tool, or put a transplant each in the ground.  As such, I’ve stumbled upon the idea of having a large group activity that I explain and start with the entire class, often at the table in the garden (or on windy days, in the main classroom with the classroom teacher or garden volunteer supervising) and then take smaller groups to the garden to do an activity.

I’ve also learned that ladybugs are not bugs, but beetles.

Last week I combined these two bits of knowledge with the following activity with the younger elementary set.

I began with a mini-lesson on the difference between true bugs and beetles, followed by all of the astonishing facts and figures about the volume and diversity of beetles on earth.  Then I passed out a blank sheet and a template of cartoons, and the kids copied this sentence and had fun embellishing their papers with either their own designs or copies of the cartoons.

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I took smaller groups of six out to the garden for five minutes at a time to paint little lady beetles on our circle of tree stumps.  (I love whimsy in children’s gardens.)

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It was a hit!  Over the next month I will be switching out kids’ work on our garden bulletin board.  They get so excited to see their drawings on display!

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Re-teaching is good learning

My son is taking a drawing class with two other students at the newly opened Studio Samadhi in Wynola—a wonderful new “center for the arts” in our community.  IMG_2833 One day last month the kids drew little cartoon birds, and it was a hit.  One of the students, who happens to be a Garden Ambassador, said, “We should do this again in the garden!”  I am always looking for realistic student-generated garden ideas for them to run with, so I asked each student to invite a friend to lunch so that they could re-teach the lesson.  It was a cold and windy day, so we ate and drew in Pathways.  The kids were excellent teachers. IMG_2654 IMG_2653 IMG_2647 All of the drawings were then pinned on our garden bulletin board for all to enjoy! IMG_2830 IMG_2831

Winter Garden Tour

And by winter, I mean the months of November and December and not the weather, as it has been distressingly warm here in Southern California.  Shed your jacket and join me as we take a look around the garden in the past few months.

I’ve seen school gardens that add holiday decorations throughout the year, so I’ve been keeping my eyes out for ornaments and wreaths at garage sales.  At the end of my church’s rummage sale, everything was on sale for $1 a box. I walked away with big plastic ornaments and wreaths.  Students help me put it all up at the end of a garden class (building ownership!), and we added bunches of freshly cut incense cedar.

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A modest radish and broccoli harvest was enough for a treat on a whole grain cracker in Mrs. Younce’s class.

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Parent, friend and native plant guru Art Cole planned and purchased natives for the area to the side of the Kandu Gate.  Plants include creeping snowberry, “Joyce Coulter” Manzanita, monkey flower, sedge, yarrow and currants. Garden Ambassadors helped me dig holes and excavate rocks.

Later I added red mulch and plant markers to help keep students from walking over them.

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Our November Backcountry Collaborative marked the end of our 1 year USDA Farm to School grant.  Pictured below are a few of the seasonal crop banners we had made to decorate our lunch area.  Also pictured are two eight grade students (confession: the boy is mine) who are introducing the food film they made for their elective class, Food Justice.  The title of their film:  Pie-oneering, The story of the first commercial pie restaurant in Julian.

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“Garden Beneficial” Harvey and Mr. Copeland worked with students to build 3×3 beds to increase our edible space, a goal of our Farm to School planning grant.

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Our harvest of the month for November and December: beautiful broccoli!  Notice the hoops and the agrobon, which we’ve used a bit with a few cold/snowy nights.

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Mrs. Dawson’s class harvested the rest of the broccoli for their holiday party, and the irrigation box has been stored inside in anticipation of freezing nights.  (Cross your fingers!)

Wreath making with herbs (primarily rosemary) and cedar was a successful holiday activity.  And the classrooms have never smelled better!

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Happy New Year everyone!  Here’s to more stories flowing from the school garden….

New cameras, same ole magic

Kid with Cameras 4.0 just came to a lovely close.  Through Julian United Methodist Church’s Gallo Fund, we were able to purchase ten “teaching cameras” for the project.  Formerly, we worked with whatever cameras the kids had access to, and we spent a lot of time fiddling with each one.  It worked, but everything is now so much easier–the cameras are always available, batteries are charged, instruction is given once to everyone, and we don’t need to download images at the end of every class.

Over seven weeks, we had a classes taught by various local photographers.  Jeff Holt and Bill Bevill taught camera fundamentals:

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Then Anne Garcia took us through principles of composition, using her own work as examples as well as a few photos of Graham Wilder’s.

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We headed out to shoot in the school garden, with the objective of using some of the best images for a Garden Club photo card fundraiser.

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Photo courtesy of Bill Bevill

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Another class was held at Down the Road farm for farmer/chef portraits.  Enlargements of some of the day’s best photos will be hung in the school cafeteria to help children make connections between their lunch and the people that had a hand in growing/preparing it.

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Dave Pierce taught a class on still life, described here.

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Graham Wilder, a new instructor with Kids with Cameras, showed the students some of his images, encouraging them to find the “extraordinary in the ordinary.”

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Then we walked to downtown Julian to do just that.

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Another new addition to the class was the process for choosing the “best photo” to exhibit.  In the past, the instructors got together to look at film to pick the image.  This year, each instructor took home the memory cards for two students after our last day of shooting.  From those photos, the teacher narrowed them down to the best 10-12 images.  Then during our last class, they sat with the students for 1.5 hours and talked through each photo, discussing them at length and asking the kids for feedback.  Ultimately, the student picked their favorite.  I think this approach worked great:  the student had ownership of the photo to be exhibited, but they chose from a small pool already screened by the instructors, drawing upon their expertise.  As educational experiences go, I think this class was simply incredible.

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As is now our tradition, we ended with an evening reception at the public library. Instructors spoke about the class, students talked about their photos, and everyone enjoyed refreshments while milling around with the artists.

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Photo courtesy of Bill Bevill

All photos remain on display for two weeks, and then the students get to take them home, along with a CD of all of their photos. Thanks to everyone involved for making this program an unqualified success!

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Photo courtesy of Bill Bevill

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Holt

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Photo courtesy of Jeff Holt

Food, ready for its closeup

Under Mr. Pierce’s instruction, today’s afterschool photography program Kids with Cameras class tackled still life, starring fruits and vegetables, to go with our “food focus” for this semester.  Stacey Peyakov from our local produce stand Wynola Flats donated produce for us to work with (thank you, Stacey!)

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I threw in my own week’s groceries as well as every basket, platter, small bowl and linen in my house.  Other instructors added vases, spools of yarn, a jug of paintbrushes, bowls, shells, lanterns…..  We ended up with a great selection of props.

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Mr. Pierce gave an excellent short presentation on the concept of “still life,” and then outlined a few things the kids should be thinking about: light, texture, color, shadow, etc.

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Then the kids went for it.  And I loved it.  100% of the kids, 100% engaged, for 100% of the class.  I was in pedagogical heaven.

Selecting materials:

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Our ratio of instructors/adults to students was almost 1:1.  The kids consulted with the teachers, and the teachers helped to set up their shots.

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One of the students suggested we tip over the tables to make areas to create the arrangements This worked great as a way to hang linens or butcher paper for backdrops.

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Watching the students exercise their creativity was a joy.  They’d work with one set of items they collected, arranging and re-arranging, and after getting their photographs, they’d head back and try something totally different.  I’d say they were definitely “in the zone.”

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These faces say it all!  A great day!

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