GROW Garden Pilot Summer Institute for K-8 teachers: Inspiring, empowering

This summer 12 teachers, from 5 MMSD schools, took part in the GROW Pilot Summer Institute at Troy Gardens.  Funded by the Madison Community Foundation and facilitated by Community GroundWork’s Nathan Larson and Beth Hanna, and MMSD’s Nicole Nelson, the Institute provided professional development on outdoor and garden-based learning.  Image

While listening to children work in the gardens and birds chirp overhead, teachers were able to collaborate on garden-based curricula development and brainstorm ideas to make outdoor classrooms more accessible to all students and staff members.  A field trip to the Goodman Youth Farm, and to the gardens at Glendale, Lapham, and Sherman inspired the participants to consider new design ideas for expanding their own schools’ outdoor classrooms.

Guest presenters included Anne Forbes, who led a “Phenology Wheel” workshop, and Sam Dennis, a UW-Madison professor of landscape architecture and expert on nature play and children’s built environments.  One participant remarked, “Troy Gardens has inspired me to be a more holistic person – I WANT TO SING SONGS IN MY CLASSROOM!  And move, dig in the dirt, lie on the ground, harvest food and cook it, plant things, talk about nature and experience it!”  Another stated, “To collaborate and dream, problem-solve and reflect with energized colleagues in a gorgeous outdoor setting was such a gift.  I have been inspired and empowered!”

IMG_3148 IMG_3102 IMG_3108 IMG_3111 IMG_3126 IMG_3128


Action, excitement abound as the GROW Garden Pilot enters year two

Raw asparagus snacks for the Kindergarten set at Muir Elementary.
Raw asparagus snacks for the Kindergarten set at Muir Elementary. Spring 2013.                  

Significant gardening action marked the end of the inaugural year of the GROW Garden Pilot program, sponsored by a generous three-year grant from the Madison Community Foundation.

Nearly 2,000 students at five schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District engaged in school-wide design exercises, “garden nights,” garden-based class projects, and all-out garden build days.

“Kids learn best when they fully use their senses,” says Jen Greenwald, who teaches second grade at Muir Elementary on Madison’s west side. “When they are in the garden, they ask boundless questions about what they see, feel, taste and hear. They eat food they never would otherwise try because they grew it themselves. When we ask them to go back to the indoor classroom, they protest. They don’t want to leave this wonder-filled place they have created.”

Students and teachers participated in multiple ways. Lincoln Elementary School Kindergarteners whooped it up at a salad party. Sixth graders at Toki Middle School  designed and presented to their parents and teachers full-scale blueprints for a new garden at the corner of Whitney Way and Russet Road in Madison’s Meadowview Neighborhood. They identified their favorite design elements and built their garden.

“The energy at Toki’s Earth Day Every Day festival was unbelievable,” says Shelly Strom, Garden Specialist with the Community Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin. “The sixth graders produced thoughtful, detailed plans of how they would design the space. They were completely engaged from the beginning through the build.” Strom, a landscape architect by training, led design sessions at the GROW Pilot schools using a model outlined in Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation.Madison Community Foundation logo

“What we see is a critical need for youth to connect the dots,” says Mary Michaud, Director of Community health for Public Health Madison & Dane County, and co-founder of the GROW Coalition. “Research tells us that kids who grow their own food are more likely to ask for fresh vegetables and fruits at home. In gardens, youth feel the power of place-making and that the community values them. Outdoor classrooms and nature-based play spaces are some of the most visible, tangible ways we can say, ‘We care about our kids.'”

Teachers from the five GROW Pilot Schools meet as part of a professional learning community. They build skills and learn strategies to engage students in active, hands-on learning in a garden or outdoor setting.
Teachers from the five GROW Pilot Schools meet as part of a professional learning community. They build skills and learn strategies to engage students in active, hands-on learning in a garden or outdoor setting.

Teachers, principals and parents from each of the schools formed teams to guide the process of integrating garden-based learning into school curricula and culture. School communities embraced the possibilities. Teachers attended workshops as part of a Professional Learning Community. Topics included engaging children in garden-based learning; how to engage members of the community in garden design, construction and maintenance; design strategies to enhance outdoor learning; and strategies to work with students in hands-on settings.

On Madison’s north side, teacher Susie Hobart organized volunteers from many walks to build a grand new pavilion adjacent to Lakeview Elementary’s new raised bed gardens. At Muir Elementary, intense winter and spring planning events were followed by an energetic day of garden building, where more than 400 K-5 students rotated through to install 16 beds and a wooded path, guided by a talented group of GROW program staff and aided by a volunteers corps from CUNA Mutual.

Tom Linfield, Vice President of Grantmaking at Madison Community Foundation helped out during the build. “It was tremendous to see K-5 kids working alongside the CUNA Mutual volunteers, moving dirt, planting vegetables, filling wheelbarrows full of mulch, planting trees.  This kinds of school/community collaboration is precisely what we’d hoped for and stands as a model for what the project will achieve over the coming years.”

Muir Elementary's hard-working students got a boost from volunteers at CUNA Mutual. Staff from the Madison Community Foundation also lent a hand.
Muir Elementary’s hard-working students got a boost from volunteers at CUNA Mutual. Staff from the Madison Community Foundation also lent a hand.

The collaboration extends to teachers, too. Because of bonds that formed through the professional learning communities, teachers from Spring Harbor Middle School (an environmental education magnet school) visited teachers at Lincoln Elementary, sharing tips and ideas to engage kids and families in outdoor learning.

Joe Muellenberg, Dane County Extetension Nutrition and Horticulture Programs, presents a "Golden Trowel" award in appreciation to Nicole Nelson, GROW Pilot coordinator at MMSD, for all of her great work in the pilot's first year.
Joe Muellenberg, right, Dane County Extetension Nutrition and Horticulture Programs, presents a “Golden Trowel” award in appreciation to teacher Nicole Nelson, coordinator of the GROW Pilot at MMSD, for all of her outstanding work during the pilot’s first year.

Effective collaboration is not easy, but it’s a worthwhile cornerstone of an effective effort to address sticky social challenges. GROW Pilot staff and members of the GROW Coalition Steering Committee are reviewing applications for a new group of five Year 2 GROW schools from across Dane County. If year two produces anything like the energy and action of year one, we may just have a movement on our hands.

Lincoln's GROW team--teachers, principal, parent, student--discuss community engagement at a workshop on effectively involving parents and others in the GROW initiative.
Lincoln’s GROW team–teachers, principal, parent, student–discuss community engagement at a workshop on effectively involving parents and other community members in the GROW initiative. Sustainability of outdoor classrooms most often depends on effective community engagement.

Photo credits:
Mary Michaud

“Like” us on Facebook!

Lakeview Elementary’s Outdoor Classroom is GROWing!! Calling all volunteers…

From Susie Hobart, teacher at Lakeview Elementary on Madison’s North Side.

Lakeview Elementary School is one of five schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District to win a grant and participate in an innovative, three-year garden-based learning pilot project funded by the Madison Community Foundation. Susie is a teacher on the school’s team. 

We need your help on Monday, May 13th at 3:30. Read on for an update…
Led by our volunteer contractor (Tim Connor) and volunteer architect (Tom Hirsch) on Saturday, May 4th,  we measured and squared the structure for our pavlion, dug five foot holes, set the 300 pound poles, braced the structure and put up one of the 500 pound headers. Sunday, May 5th,  four dads, one gym teacher, one mom and one friendly lawyer put the last header up, up, up.
Monday, Lycon arrived and poured  concrete around the footings, and our architect’s grandaughters smoothed the tops. (Funded by the LOWES Foundation)
Next step – Monday, May 13th,  after school around 3:30 we hope to put up the rafters and if really lucky, screw down the tongue and groove plywood roof sheathing. WE NEED YOUR HELP!

Next we will construct frames around the posts  30″ from the ground and have Lycon come back and pour colored concrete in the framing, giving our footings above ground stability. If we are really lucky, Brandon Lincoln will arrive and lay the roofing. If not that day, soon.

Once the pavilion is constructed, our very  own art teacher, Mr. Vang, will install the hundreds of 3 x 3 inch nature based clay tiles made by our very own k-5 artists from the top of the concrete to the top of the structure. (Funded by the Madison Arts Council) Our 4/5th graders will be installing a rain garden between the school and the pavilion to take advantage of the runoff and create a bird friendly habitat. (Funded by National Forestry Foundation)

A wonderful volunteer, Dean, is working with students to build 4 eight foot cedar picnic tables (funded by Willy St)  that will serve as seating in the pavilion. Our friend, Mr. Richard, a retired art teacher, has helped some of our budding artists paint nature murals on the bench seats. Under the pavilion will also be our garden kitchen i.e. a stainless steel table and sink from Kessenichs. (Funded by GHC and the Dane County/ City of Madison Health Department.)

Our new garden beds are up! And thanks to James Kudzin’s carpentry and our GROW grant, and Vesna’s earth leveling, we now have twelve beds. Two for strawberries, one a Hmong demonstration bed, one a sensory garden and eight for eight of our classrooms. Our K-1st graders planted seeds in science, and now the older students get to transplant them.Moms, Vesna, Zivile and Melissa are all helping classes plant the beds.

We are working to clear the buckthorn, honeysuckles and garlic mustard from the woods. Students are creating walking paths and sitting areas. We are hoping to create a meditative walking path through the woods on our UW Health sponsored Wellness Day, June 10th.
A small group of interested north siders are investigating the purchase of the wetlands adjacent to the school. It could provide a wonderful educational ecosystem for students.
Did you notice that our bushes adjacent to the parking lot are disappearing? We will be replacing the scraggly bushes with edible bushes…service berries and a variety of raspberries.
We are so fortunate to have so many volunteers and parties willing to help us financially. Our friends at the WI Environmental Education Board and Keith Warnke of the DNR were the catalysts last summer.

The plans for the pavilion are in the office windows and garden area plans posted upstairs. Stop and see them. Better yet, come on back around the school, and see what is going on in our exciting OUTDOOR CLASSROOM. Feel free to pull some garlic mustard or stir the compost bins. And if you can, please join us this Monday or at our next pavilion work day. 

Susan J Hobart, MSEd, NBCT
Lake View Elementary School
Madison Metropolitan School District

Adding up our recent Facebook posts

If you are not a Facebook user or haven’t had a chance to look over the great outdoor learning resources we’ve assembled from around the Internet, take a gander at the following list–all resources posted to the GROW Facebook page over the past year! If you have something to add, get in touch!

Teacher Resources

Community Building 

Schoolyard Greening/Outdoor Learning

Obeseity Prevention



Healthy Food