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Digging into education

Guardian Angels School students grouped in pairs scoured their garden during class last week to discover plump tomatoes, vibrant banana peppers and fragrant cilantro.

“I have that with my tacos,” exclaimed fourth-grader Roberto Valenzula-Sierra after putting his nose to cilantro.

Students and teachers at the Denver Catholic grade school are beaming over their new educational tool: a mass of leafy vegetables, budding flowers and fragrant herbs sprouting from a mound of soil in the back lot.

Principal Mary Gold chose a garden for its unused space not for students and teachers to run away from the rigors of education, but for them to run toward it.

“It’s just hands-on science—you can’t beat it,” she said. “You can talk about it in class, you can see pictures in a textbook of a plant and name all the parts, but how much are you going to remember? But if you eat it, you taste it, you plant it and you go through the process, students will have a greater understanding.”

The school’s four-year-long plans to design and plant a sustainable garden bore fruit this year with a variety of vegetables, fruits and herbs.

The school partnered with Regis University and associate professor Joan Armon to turn the school’s lot into a garden using permaculture concepts. Students and faculty pitched in to place donated cardboard, wood chips, enriched soil and a water line before planting seeds a year ago.

The community pitched in, too. One Boy Scout, Brandon Krattenmaker, built a shed to hold their gardening tools. Another Scout, Nicholas Marcello, is constructing benches using Beetle Kill wood to enable teachers to hold outdoor classes. Regis University students versed in gardening also aided their work.

In the future, Gold said she wants to build an adjoining prayer garden, a place for quiet reflection and time with Christ.

This school year, Gold asked teachers to incorporate the garden into their lesson plans. Concepts in math, science, language, art and more could be taught using the garden.

“It’s another opportunity for urban kids to learn in a new way,” she said.

She encourages students not to spend all their time playing video games or watching TV. Students need to experience life and actively learn.

“It sounds like a simple lesson, but kids need to be in the soil and growing things—it’s a big deal to them,” Gold said.

Art and technology teacher Emmy Wood led the pre-kindergarten and fourth-grade students with their teacher Sara Kammer on Sept. 3 in identifying and learning about the plants.

Wood said she hopes students understand the origin of their food.

“I hope they get the connection on where they get their food from. It doesn’t just come from the store wrapped in plastic,” she said.

Nevina Montoya-Olivas, 9, counted the number of green peppers and banana peppers in the garden. She said she learned about garden snakes and how to grow sunflowers.

During their outdoor class, Kammer talked to the students about the uses of vegetables. She pulled onions, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, peppers and other ingredients and made salsa with the class. For back-to-school night, they made pickles and baked zucchini muffins for parents.

Already the school is using garden vegetables in its lunches and qualified for a program through the USDA that will refund 6 cents for every meal using homegrown produce, Gold said. Teachers have also held in-service days in the garden.

The school will continue to maintain and expand their garden, Gold said.

“(The students) need exercise; they need to be out in an environment that is healthy and nice,” she said. “It will be an extension of our classroom.”

Nissa LaPoint: 303-715-3138; nissa.lapoint@archden.org; www.twitter.com/DCRegisterNissa

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