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Garden Project Builds Community at Heritage ECS

Garden Project Builds Community at Heritage ECS

What do Jenny Hutzelman’s second graders say is the best part of a recent project?

“Making a positive impact on the community.” – Kinsley

“Finding worms!” – Isabella

“Getting to work with other people to get things done.” - Cael

“Being with Mother Nature.” - Aiden

Perhaps the best part of the garden project is that it was the students’ idea.

Early in the school year, the Heritage ECS class learned about communities in their social studies unit. “For our final project in the unit, we decided to work together to make an impact in our school community to better meet our needs,” said Hutzelman. Her class came up with the lack of an outdoor learning area and a desire to do something about the garden that was overrun with weeds. 

The class decided to focus on their desire for an outdoor learning area, creating persuasive posters using Google slides to show to the PTO and the school’s administrators. However, due to COVID the class never really got to make their presentation. (We’ll come back to this later.)

Spring arrived and the class started their final science unit, learning about how living things change the environment. They talked about bees, beavers, worms, and humans. They also discussed how they could make a positive change and decided to go back to their garden idea. 

“We worked, and worked, and worked some more,” said Hutzelman. She estimates that it took almost three weeks to pull all the weeds to prepare the beds. Students and their families even came on the weekend to help.

“It was hard work pulling giant weeds that were taller than us,” said second grader Reese. Classmate Brady added, “Gardening never stops and the weeds just keep growing!”

People started noticing the students’ hard work. A local author of children’s books about nature contacted Hutzelman via Twitter and has been corresponding with the class. Teachers in the building shared how great the garden looked and can’t believe what the class has done – and they want to know how they can be part of the transformation.

“One day while talking to a kindergarten teacher (Mrs. Willicut), I explained that we were planning to plant a couple of garden beds to attract pollinators as well as some vegetable seeds that my students were bringing in,” said Hutzelman. “She mentioned that they had just gotten caterpillars, and how the pollinator beds fit perfectly into the kindergarten curriculum. I told her that I would LOVE if her class would join us in working in the garden.” So the second graders helped the kindergartners with the tools they needed to create the bee and butterfly pollinator beds.  

The collaboration has grown to include first grade classes as well. They are going to plant pumpkins because they do a lot of math and science activities in the fall involving pumpkins.

Hutzelman’s hope is that every student at Heritage will get the opportunity to participate.

When discussing the plans with Assistant Principal Natalie Jimenez, the idea of a salsa garden came up. If Hutzelman’s class planted items in the remaining beds to make salsa, the project could also fit into their math and language arts curriculum because students would be following a recipe to measure ingredients to make our very own salsa. Jonathan shared his family’s favorite salsa recipe to help plan the garden. What’s in a salsa garden? “Peppers!” called out Gavin. Other students chimed in with onions, tomatoes, cilantro and garlic.

“An added benefit is that this outdoor project is a great way to get our bodies moving, which helps us be ready to sit and focus once we are back in the classroom,” said Hutzelman.

Jimenez talked to the Heritage PTO and they offered $100 to help support the garden project. Hutzelman went to several stores to get prices on tools for the garden. When she explained the project to the assistant manager at Home Depot, he started loading up a large cart with everything they needed: new tools, a wagon, a storage box, watering cans, yard waste bags, tomato cages, seeds, plant markers, kneeling pads, and more! And everything was generously donated. During “M” day on their ABC Countdown to the last day of school, the class worked on math activities. Isabella and Kinsley decided to go to the Home Depot website to look up and calculate the value of the donated items and found the supplies cost hundreds of dollars.

The second graders wrote thank you notes to Home Depot. When Hutzelman delivered them to the assistant manager, she mentioned that because of his generous donation, the class was now trying to convince the PTO and administrators to use the $100 budget towards an outdoor learning area (using the slide presentation they developed in the fall). He thought Home Depot might be able to help and asked if he could share the presentation with his management team. The idea was well received and Hutzelman is awaiting the final outcome.

“My class has learned so much,” said Hutzelman. “This project has provided a true authentic learning experience in so many ways. We have written countless letters, done research on various topics, worked together to make an impact to help get our needs met, changed the environment in a positive way, and so much more. Not only have my students learned content in our social studies, science, and language arts curriculum, my students now know that their efforts make a difference! That’s powerful stuff!!”

The students have also learned what it is to be a community and how to pay it forward. Afterall, the second graders are planting the salsa garden, but it will be next year’s second graders that get to make the first batch of salsa.

That doesn’t matter to them; they are just proud to see the garden take shape. The latest addition to the garden was a sign from first grade teacher Amy Ovitt that reads “Heritage Community Garden.” It will be a lasting reminder of the class’s hard work.

“Hopefully, my students will be inspired to take action when they see a problem in the future rather than sitting back and just talking about it,” said Hutzelman. “I am so proud of their hard work to make their dreams come true!”