Inspiring Students and Building Community in our School Garden

Inspiring Students And Building Community In Our School Garden

Fri 16 Nov 2012

Story by David Cunningham

Peace Garden and Green Thumbs: Sprucecourt Junior Public Schoolís Community Garden

Sprucecourt Junior Public School is located in downtown Toronto, Canadaís largest and most ethnically diverse city. Our school is surrounded by three very diverse neighbourhoods: St. Jamestown, Cabbagetown and Regent Park. Most of the students that attend our school are from Regent Park, which is Canadaís oldest social housing project. Presently, Regent Park is in the midst of revitalization and transformation into a mixed income neighbourhood.

In 2009, some former students of Sprucecourt and Liz Bristoll started a pilot project, Lead2Peace, with her grade 6 class. The youths who initiated the project were motivated by their experiences growing up in Regent Park and sought to build community awareness and positive community development. They generated ideas by discussing topics that affect their neighbourhood such as the environment, education, drugs, alcohol, homelessness and violence.

Creating a Peace Garden

For a cumulative project at the end of the year, Ms. Bristollís students chose to create a peace garden to replace one that was going to be destroyed in South Regent Park due to the revitalization. That peace garden was started by a woman who had lost her son to violence and was a monument to others who have lost their sons over the years. Bricks were delivered to our school from one of the buildings torn down in Regent Park and were used to outline our garden. In the first year, the garden was a small plot in the shape of a peace symbol with mainly an assortment of flowers to brighten up the front of the school.

Establishing A Sustainable and Edible Garden

Once the garden was established, a wonderful local organization Green Thumbs, Growing Kids started working with Lead2Peace, Liz and the school to help us establish a more sustainable and edible garden which would not only benefit the school but also the community around it. Green Thumbs also worked with Lead2Peace sharing maintenance duties, seed choices, and programming in the garden for the grade 6 classes. With the guidance and support of Green Thumbs, we fenced in a larger area around the original peace garden symbol and started planting a variety of crops with a particular attention to crops from different cultures.

Hands-On Learning Experiences

We are very fortunate to have the passionate organizers and educators of Green Thumbs, Growing Kids help us develop our school garden. They offer amazing hands-on learning experiences to urban children and their families, teaching about growing food, environmental education, and building bridges in the community in the garden.

Having established programs in four inner-city Toronto schools, Green Thumbs works closely with teachers to program in a way that allows for experiences in the garden to connect to the education curriculum. They also encourage that many of the crops grown in the garden be used in the school to create healthier snack and lunch programs. Thankfully at Sprucecourt, we have taken this advice as Joyce our legendary Hot Lunch chef has been using veggies and herbs from our garden in her recipes and making salads for our students at lunch. Sustainable gardening at its finest!

Special Education in the Garden

At Sprucecourt P. S. we have a special education class of 22 diverse and amazing students ranging from grades 2 to 7, with two teachers. Liz Bristoll, who helped create and develop the garden as well as many experiential learning opportunities for students at Sprucecourt, teaches the Junior/Intermediate group (grades 5 to 7 students). David Cunningham teaches the primary group (grades 2 to 4 students). David grew up in the neighbourhood and attended Sprucecourt as a child and it is a great pleasure of his to help provide life experiences to students and give back to the community that taught him so much. Our program is called the Home School Program (HSP) but we prefer to be called Hyper Super People!

Since September, our HSP class has been working every week with Green Thumbs, Growing Kids in the garden. Cassie, Kryslyn and Sunday from Green Thumbs have been providing fun, hands-on experiences about planting crops, maintaining the garden, preparing for the next planting season, seeds and soil, and harvesting the last of our crops so there is no waste.

We have extended that learning in the school with writing and math activities, cooking with our harvested crops (salsa!), and many future plans for curriculum connections to our garden experiences. The alternative programming we provide gives students who have difficulty in a more traditional class program a chance to build of their experiences, learn life skills, work co-operatively with their peers and adults, and build their confidence by becoming mentors in the garden to other students in the school.

We have created a class blog to follow the development of our garden throughout the year and our learning experiences with Green Thumbs. Please check us out, join and follow our progress throughout the year. We are working toward developing a cooking class as an extension to our garden work (healthy eating that is fun!), surveying the parents of our school to find out traditional crops that would encourage more community participation in the garden, and planting seedlings in our class and greenhouse.

Exciting times for us and the future of our garden! We are always excited about new gardening ideas, recipes and stories so please share with us!

About the author: David Cunningham is the primary Special Education teacher at Sprucecourt P. S. in Toronto. He is focused on teaching students through experiential learning that can be brought into the classroom. David also loves food! He is teaching about healthy eating, cooking, and where our food comes from through the schoolís community garden.


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