The Mount Solo Middle School students that spent last semester planning a garden hardly expected their plans to be realized. For them, the project seemed like an effort in logic, science and math.
“When we all heard we were going to build a garden, we all thought about the trees and the bushes and the flowers, … not so much about the statistics and math and logistics,” said Hannah Sears, a seventh grader.
“You think of building a garden as a fun activity, but it has a lot of math involved.”
But when a backhoe and dump truck showed up to the school Wednesday to excavate a 6,500 square feet of land east of the school, the students quickly realized their plans would become a reality.
“I feel a bit proud I was able to help play a part in building this garden,” Hannah said.
Mount Solo is the last Longview middle school to open a school garden, completing the goal of the Lower Columbia School Garden program to establish a garden at each elementary and middle school in the district.
That program supports schools in opening gardens like the one at Mount Solo. It also helps teachers with “curriculum integration” so they can use the garden to teach lessons that meet state testing standards, said Ian Thompson, director of the program.
“We just think it’s a really big piece to turning around the health of our community. … What this (garden) does is transformative. It fundamentally changes kids’ relationship with food,” Thompson said. “And it changes their thinking about the world.”
Opening this final middle school garden is a “landmark event” for the community, Thompson said.
“The big thing is that kids aren’t being left out because they happen to go the the wrong school,” he said. “Now every student has this opportunity in the first nine years of their education.”
Through the school garden, students learn about food and science through hands-on interaction with the outdoors, Thompson said.
“Most school grounds, everything is nailed down and there’s no room for kids to creatively interact with their environment. This allows building and growing and self-directed projects,” Thompson said. “It can’t all happen at a desk.”
Paige Murphy, a Mount Solo seventh grader, said she thinks the garden can be incorporated into a variety of classes. Students can practice writing about the garden in their English class, drawing the flowers in their art class and calculating area for their math class, she said.
“There are so many different classes it can work with,” Paige said.
Mount Solo’s garden will be planted near the back of the school, where the portable classrooms were when Monticello and Cascade middle school students attended Mount Solo while their schools were renovated in 2004 and 2005. Planting is slated to begin in about two months, Thompson said.
The actual cost to open a school garden is around $25,000, Thompson said. But through grants and donations, the school’s financial contributions are little to none, he said.
Although Thompson’s nonprofit helps with grant writing and “connecting the schools to community resources,” such as Jammie’s Environmental and Watkin’s Tractors, local businesses that provided labor and equipment to excavate the garden Wednesday, the decision to open the garden is up to the schools. Teachers and students are also responsible for designing and maintaining the garden.
“We don’t go to the schools and say, ‘We will build you a garden now.’ ” Thompson said. “Teachers want to do this stuff with their kids. … It’s just about the right group of people getting together.”
At Mount Solo, that group included teachers Meghan and Dan Reed, Megan Getchell, Dan Nickerson, Eric VanZanten, Rose McGowen and Tom Olason, Thompson said.
Olason, a computer science teacher at the school, led a group of seventh graders in planning the garden last semester in his “Exploratory” class, which allows students to “experience curriculum outside of the core” classes like English, math and science.
“Our vision is to really make this (garden) kid-centric. They will have a big role in the vision, how it looks and how it functions,” Olason said.
Right now, the garden is a “blank slate,” Thompson said, but the students are dreaming big about what the green space will look like.
“I always envisioned big trees that would cast shade over the garden,” Hannah said. She also wants to add a water feature and apple trees, she said.
“I’m really excited. … Building a garden been a thing on my bucket list for a long time,” Hannah said.
Paige described her plans for a garden with flowering plants, vegetables and fruits and “a rock or gravel pathway through the garden.”
“When we first got notice we were making a garden … I didn’t think we’d actually be building it. I thought we’d just were planning it,” Paige said.
She added, “I’m really excited it’s actually happening. ”