C&G Newspapers | Southfield students plant learning gardens throughout district

SOUTHFIELD — Students of all ages in the Southfield Public Schools district are rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty this fall, all in the name of learning. 

On Sept. 21, students from various grades met at Thompson K-8 International Academy to plant learning gardens in front of the school. 

According to SPS officials, the district received a grant from Big Green to plant the gardens. Big Green is a Colorado-based national nonprofit whose goal is to bring “real food” to underserved communities, according to its website. 

Ava Jackson, a Big Green program manager, said nonprofit leaders brought the organization to Michigan last year with a goal of building 100 gardens by 2020. 

“We work with school districts who want to leverage the power of having healthy food and providing it to their students,” Jackson said. “Southfield is one of those school districts that really decided this was something they wanted to have for their students, because it’s just not about giving them healthy vegetables, but it’s also an opportunity to bring learning outside of classroom spaces.”

A learning garden, according to Big Green’s website, is an outdoor classroom that produces edible plants. 

“Our students are learning a lot about nutrition and urban gardening. … This is a way for them to get involved in it, be able to speak about it and have some context for it. You’d be surprised how many kids don’t know where a tomato comes from,” Southfield High School for the Arts and Technology Science Curriculum Facilitator Kimberly Wardell-Stone said. 

During the kickoff event, students laid soil, set up irrigation, and planted lettuce, kale, turnips and radishes, which they will harvest in mid-October. In the spring, students will plant a new garden. 

Along with Thompson, Kennedy Learning Center, Stephenson Elementary School, MacArthur K-8 University Academy, Southfield A&T and Vandenberg World Cultures Academy are all participating in the learning garden program. Each school utilizing the Big Green program has its own garden team, Wardell-Stone said. 

Wardell-Stone said the program helps students learn in other subjects as well, not just science. 

“Every one of these at the schools represents a model classroom,” Wardell-Stone said. “The process is transforming empty spaces into learning spaces, where students are not only learning about the career and skills that go into gardening, but it’s also a place for science to be taught. It’s a place for art to be taught — (students) can come out and sketch around the gardens. They can reflect, do reflective writing for English, engineering — we work with engineering groups to come up with some ways to keep the deer and pests away.” 

Jackson said that in addition to Southfield, Big Green is hosting 15 garden builds across metro Detroit, including in Oak Park, Ferndale and through the charter schools network. 

“I’m so pleased we have this opportunity for our students — all ages, all capabilities, all walks of life — to participate in this,” Wardell-Stone said. 

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