Supported by a powerhouse PTA, Lowell Elementary School’s outdoor Learning Garden has earned the top honor for student achievement from the California State PTA.
The garden and its accompanying outdoor classroom space won the state PTA’s Spotlight Award. Only one award statewide is given in eight categories including leadership development, environment, family involvement, membership and outreach, collaboration, advocacy, student involvement and student achievement. Lowell won in the student achievement category.
“We’re so honored that the garden has become such an asset for the school,” said parent volunteer Karen Taylor, chair of the Lowell Learning Garden Committee. “We’re thrilled. The teachers are saying yes, this is really important, and the project has really blossomed.”
Created through the collaboration of parents, community members and teachers, the garden has become integral to student achievement. The garden first consisted of three 3’ x 8’ raised garden beds, a California native plant garden and a monarch butterfly way station, all located around the school’s perimeter. Over the past five years, the garden has expanded with additional raised garden beds, a dinosaur garden and a colonial kitchen garden.
Last year, a designated space was built for the Learning Garden’s outdoor classroom featuring five additional raised garden beds, a semi-circle of benches, a teaching backdrop and table, and storage. The PTA donated about $8,000 for that project and has allocated roughly $1,500 to $2,500 each year to develop and sustain the entire outdoor learning experience. During the school year, the raised garden beds contain a variety of produce, flowers and herbs in various stages of growth, providing students with ever-changing opportunities for learning.
The garden was created to provide students with hands-on learning related to school curriculum, healthy food choices and nutrition, responsible community participation and environmental stewardship. Lowell’s teachers have coordinated with garden volunteers to create lesson plans for grades K-5 that support California’s education standards and cover subjects including math, science, history, social studies, economics and ecology.
Kindergarteners, for instance, learn about an Iroquois gardening legend that evolved from the planting of corn, beans and squash. The kindergartners grow produce used in recipes that they prepare.
Third graders study biomes, or ecological communities characterized by distinctive plant and animal species. The students taste edible plant parts and hunt for plant adaptations that are unique to the region. Students also plant a community garden, create a “small business” to sell produce, and donate proceeds to charity.
Fifth graders use authentic colonial planting techniques to create a medicinal and culinary garden. They grasp the garden’s importance to colonial life when they bind garden journals, taste herb teas and enjoy lavender muffins.
PTA members meet monthly to maintain and improve the garden as well as help students with lessons and activities.
The Spotlight Award will be presented to Lowell at the state PTA’s annual convention on Friday, May 11 in Anaheim.
Taylor, the parent volunteer, welcomes the chance to share the successful project with other schools. For more information, contact Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.