Back to School Garden Visit
North Park’s McKinley Elementary stands out as an example of a successful collaboration between educators, community and parents in an urban setting. With 59% of its student body eligible for the free or reduced cost lunch program and better than 1 in 4 students as English language learners, the school’s education achievements belie stereotyped expectations of poor performance and test scores.
Central to McKinley’s success has been parental involvement spawning innovative programs, like the school’s Octopus Garden, in place since 2007. Named after a large mosaic octopus created with help from ARTS (A Reason to Survive – an organization that works in the community providing art education and experiences for youth), the artwork incorporates images created by the children working with volunteer
Raised organically farmed beds are tended by each class in the school. There is also asmaller Kinder-Garden, says Jon Rogers, garden organizer/involved parent, who donates time on a daily basis,
overseeing many aspects of the space. Smaller trees portend the
arrival of a fruit orchard in years to come.
Much of the initial planting came via donations from nearby North Park Nursery. Teachers at McKinley incorporate the garden and
its calming environs into their lessons, using it as an outdoor
classroom in temperate weather. Plans are afoot to cover a part
of an adjacent area, allowing for shaded space on extra-sunny days.
Community volunteer Grant Ferrier leads the school’s Garden Club, which includes fourth and fifth graders calling themselves “The Green Team” as they go about collecting food waste scraps from the school lunchroom that get added to the two compost bins on property. A worm bin provides castings to create fertilizer tea, used to further enrich the soil.
Alchemy Chef Ricardo Heredia leads an eight week after school program taught mostly in the garden which culminates in a dinner at the nearby restaurant for parents of the participants, incorporating items raised by the kids. In addition to exposing students to new
foods, the program incorporates introductory information about food science, sustainability, and basic culinary techniques. Last year’s lesson plan included a field trip to Susie’s Farm, a major supplier of organic foods for both restaurants and farmers markets in the San Diego region.
The McKinley Garden continues to yield positive results going far further than the initial expectations of establishing an important connection to nature, and experiencing how things grow for urban youth. Beyond the lessons being learned in ecology, composting, weeding, insects – even math and science-the program is growing a generation of students who’ll become educated consumers. And that’s a “win” for everybody.