Most elementary school students study the founding of America at some point during their education. However, it is rare for students to supplement their learning with authentic Native American food that they grow themselves.
Students at Rocky Hill School will be doing just that. Rocky Hill School recently unveiled a new learning environment known as the Garden Classroom, and its purpose is to integrate the core curriculum of the Lower and Middle Schools with an outdoor setting. At a May 4 ceremony, the Garden Classroom was dedicated to Lower School Health Teacher and Classroom Aide, and head of the Garden Curriculum Committee, Jaime Gardner.
Made possible by a generous anonymous donor, the Garden Classroom aims to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students enrolled in the Lower and Middle schools. Even in this early stage of the Garden Classroom’s existence, course instructors have found ways to implement the unique learning environment into various courses, such as Art, Science, English, and even Math. However, one course still remains that instructors have not been able to integrate with the Garden Classroom.
“Music is the only discipline we haven’t been able to use with the Garden Classroom yet,” said Gardner.
In the coming years, Rocky Hill School hopes to integrate the Garden Classroom into its core curriculum more frequently. Gardner outlined a plan for the upcoming year, in which students in the Lower School supplement their Social Studies and English courses with appropriate food. For example, during the third grade’s unit on Native American studies, students will also plant and eat some of the more prominent Native American crops. Meanwhile, the first graders will supplement their unit on fairy tales with appropriate “fairy tale crops,” such as pumpkins and beans.
In an opening address at the ceremony, head of school Dr. Jonathan M. Schoenwald sang the praises of Gardner, saying that she “has helped our garden and minds grow by leaps and bounds, and helps all of us become better people every single day.” Before revealing the recipient of the dedication, Dr. Schoenwald dropped a few clues, jokingly adding that the recipient was “an amazing gardener.” This not-so-subtle hint prompted many of the Lower School students to shout out Ms. Gardner’s name, and sure enough, Dr. Schoenwald then revealed an inscribed slab marked by the words “The Jaime Gardner Garden Classroom.”
Under this heading was a quotation from 17th Century English poet Joseph Addison. After Dr. Schoenwald’s introduction, Gardner herself stepped up to say a few words. Gardner was quick to point out that bringing the Garden Classroom into fruition was not a solo effort, thanking her fellow Garden Curriculum Committee members, as well as others, for their invaluable contributions to the project.
“Everyone in plant operations has been so, so helpful,” Gardner stated, before adding, “I’m really glad the kids are excited about working in the garden.”
After the initial dedication ceremony, the various students in attendance ran off to different areas of the garden classroom, admiring the wide array of plant-life. Interestingly, one plant in the garden attracted more visitors than the others; a lone Butterfly Bush, planted many months ago in remembrance of a beloved class pet fish.
For many students, the Garden Classroom’s Butterfly Bush carries strong emotional resonance. Elsa Block, a third grade student, was one of many to stop by the bush and pay her respects.
“This is where we buried One-Eyed Bob,” she said, before remembering that the fish was treated to a name-change late in its life, when students discovered that One-Eyed Bob was actually a female fish. “After we found out, we changed Bob’s name to Oscarina,” said Block.
Overall, the Garden Classroom seems to provide students with a truly unique and inviting learning environment. A few seats fashioned from tree stumps decorate the area, and in the coming months Gardner hopes to acquire more of these chairs. “The stumps create an environment sort of like an outdoor harkness table,” Gardner stated, further adding, “I hope we can get more of them soon.” The response toward the Garden Classroom from the students thus far has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I love coming to plant and getting dirt on my hands,” said Julianna Dicenso, a fifth grader. Judging by the elated responses of many of her classmates, Julianna is not alone.