This September, CitySprouts continued its expansion into the Boston Public Schools with three new partnerships: the Baldwin Early Learning Center of Brighton along with the Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary and Lee Academy Pilot School of Dorchester. To get an update on how these new partnerships are going, we turned to Rochelle, Corey, and Brittany, our FoodCorps service members, for reports from the ground.
Baldwin Early Learning Center
By Rochelle Li
Tavia Mead, the principal of Baldwin Early Learning Center (ELC), has high hopes for the new CitySprouts school garden. Principal Mead has been a resident of Cambridge for many years and was very familiar with our organization’s work.
“When I heard [CitySprouts founder] Jane Hirshi speak about CitySprouts at a principals meeting earlier this year, I knew right away that I wanted to do it at the Baldwin Early Learning Center,” said Principle Mead.
According to Mead, there were many efforts to implement and utilize a garden as a classroom resource. However, the ultimate challenge for the school was maintaining a sustainable program. With an official partnership with CitySprouts blossoming this fall, Baldwin ELC’s school garden program may have a different and more viable course moving forward.
Shay Chess, the CitySprouts Garden Coordinator for Baldwin ELC, is expressed her excitement at working with this new Boston school. “I really love the teachers, the students and the community of this school. The teachers and the principal have been incredibly supportive and involved since day one,” said Chess.
According to Chess, there are a total of fourteen garden beds at Baldwin ELC. Her newest project will be integrating six new planters donated by Whole Foods Market and planting winter-hardy plants with the kids. Some varieties she planned to plant are spinach, mizuna, tatsoy and winter wheat. Chess was really excited to see that a number of teachers had already started bringing out their classes to garden independently.
Although some teachers have taken ownership gone into the garden independently, others are more hesitant and are unsure of how to utilize the garden in their lesson plants. In the future, Principal Mead seeks to have all of the teachers understand the benefits of using the garden as a resource for experiential learning for their students.
As the school year begins and the winter season approaches, Principle Mead’s aspirations for the garden remain positive and enthusiastic.
“I want the school garden to become a part of the school and a part of us. My hope is that the garden will truly connect the kids to nature,” said Principle Mead.
Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary
By Corey Carmichael
Oliver Wendell Holmes Elementary School, located in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, is a bright and cheerful school which prides itself on providing its students with a “rich, rigorous, and multi-sensory education.” As I walked into the school for the first time, the hallways exuded a sense of joy and community. The walls were colorfully decorated with large signs and the teachers had smiles on their faces. While discussing the school environment with garden coordinator, Solomon Montagno, he pointed out that “there are uplifting quotes all around the school which try to instill into the students the idea of self-worth and importance.” The empowering school environment is a reflection of the school’s educational philosophy. Holmes Elementary takes a holistic approach to education which aims to meet every student’s academic and social needs. Solomon noted that partnering with CitySprouts is a “perfect way to enhance that supportive, all-inclusive approach to learning.”
Over the month of September, as the students at Holmes Elementary School were settling into the new year and filling the hallways with life and energy, CitySprouts staff and volunteers were hard at work filling the garden with some life of its own. Early in September, Solomon set to work planting in the three existing garden beds and planning for the garden expansion that would occur in the coming weeks. In mid-September a group of volunteers from Fidelity Investments joined forces with Solomon and other CitySprouts staff to take Solomon’s garden expansion plans into action. Over the course of one day, the 22 volunteers and CitySprouts staff built and moved raised beds, pruned trees, picked up trash, and planted seedlings. The garden building effort was met with both gratitude and excitement. Many community members expressed appreciation and joy at the sight of the newly renovated garden space. The most heartfelt “thank you” came from Yeshi Lamour, the principal of Holmes Elementary. Despite her busy schedule, she made her way to the garden to personally thank every volunteer with a handshake. The garden-building didn’t end there. In the last week of September, 14 new planters from Whole Foods Market were installed in the Holmes school garden. With those planters as the last addition, the garden is complete.
According to Solomon, his focus is now to spread the word that the garden is there and ready to be used. He wants the garden to be a space where students feel comfortable and excited about learning. While Solomon is still working on advertising the garden and connecting with teachers, the garden already has many supporters. Solomon has taught science lessons in the garden and many students have expressed interest in the garden as they pass by. As Holmes Elementary School and CitySprouts work together, the opportunities for providing students with a holistic, multi-sensory education will continue to grow. We are very excited about this new partnership.
Lee Academy Pilot School
By Brittany Hsu
CitySprouts is honored to be working with Boston’s Lee Academy Pilot School, an inclusion school for children ages 3-6 that prioritizes personalized, purposeful, and creative learning. Lee Academy is a fully inclusive, autonomous school that was built on collaboration with families, community members, and educators. They strive to meet children’s social-emotional needs by valuing the nature of all different types of learners and their diverse backgrounds. Lee Academy believes in the individual genius of every child and the importance of promoting creativity and curiosity.
CitySprouts was welcomed into the Lee Academy community with this mission in mind. Lee Academy hopes to use the newly built garden to inspire students with different learning styles and promote a hands-on approach to learning. Mr. Ben, the school’s science teacher, plans on incorporating the garden into his lessons and has already taken kids to observe the strawberries, potatoes, herbs, and cucumbers that are growing in the garden.
Principal Amelia Gorman voiced her strong support for CitySprouts. “Lee Academy is an inclusion school,” she said, “which recognizes that each child has different strengths. Some might learn best outside in a sensory environment so a garden would be beneficial.” She also hopes her students can “learn that it takes a lot of effort for a tomato grow.” She looks forward to promoting collaborations amongst different teachers in the school and encouraging them to take advantage of the garden as a teaching resource.
Solomon Montagno, one of the CitySprouts new garden coordinators working at the school, is actively building relationships with teachers to encourage more students to use the gardens. He thinks that the garden is a unique opportunity for both nutrition and didactic education. “Many students in the Boston area have little exposure to gardens or even how the food they eat is raised. I find this as an opportunity for me to increase their traditional skills, such as reading, writing, math, and science through hands on learning as well as to educate them on food, especially where their food comes from and the importance of having ones own garden. In the end I hope that each student leaves learning something new about their world and is able to make a person connection to the food they eat everyday!”
One child in Mr. Ben’s science class enthusiastically remarked “can I try a strawberry?” As the garden continues to expand, kids will have the opportunity to try more new fruits and vegetables while reveling in the wonders of nature.