New Britain Smith School
A warm June morning found Kaleigh standing proudly in front of an elementary school in New Britain, where she had served as the FoodCorps Service Member for the past year. Before Kaleigh joined the Smith School community, hexagonal garden beds had been built in the corner of a courtyard, nestled between the U-shaped hallways of the school, as a part of the Steam (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) Team curriculum. Kaleigh used a portion of the CT Grown for CT Kids (CTG4CTK) Grant funding to move the beds to a different part of the courtyard, closer to water access, fitting all of the beds together like the honeycombs of a beehive.
In the new garden space, Kaleigh worked with high school student volunteers to build a raised bed alongside a flat sidewalk. Kaleigh spent time planting flowers in this bed with special education students who were able to enjoy the garden bed comfortably as it allowed for wheelchair accessibility, as well as an option for children to stand if they preferred not to sit on the ground.
As Kaleigh worked to bring garden and nutrition education to the students of the Kindergarten through fifth grade school, she discovered a lack of materials to support the expanding food education curriculum. The CTG4CTK grant allowed Kaleigh to purchase kid-sized gardening equipment as well as a tool shed to store and organize everything. By having all of the materials kept in one organized space and “building a foundation of supplies”, Kaleigh foresaw an increase in participation in the garden and more connections between garden and classroom.
The entire project was supported by and bolstered up by the school staff, administration, and community partners. New Britain ROOTS, a FoodCorps partner program that works to bring hands-on garden and food experiences to students, supported the Smith School garden through in kind support in the sourcing and construction of the garden beds and tool shed. FoodCorps and New Britain ROOTS, alongside the school community, will continue to support and maintain the school garden as the CTG4CTK Grant funding comes to an end. The folks and programs surrounding the Smith School Garden recognize that funding projects like this is an important step in bringing more garden-to-school education to students, but, more important than the funding, they understand that it is the motivated group of people behind the project who will maintain the work after the funding has ended.
Doug, Curriculum Information Teacher for the Consolidated School District of New Britain as well as Kaleigh’s site supervisor, was also a strong advocate for the projects being funded by the CTG4CTK grant, bridging Kaleigh’s work with the Steam Team’s curriculum theme of “hands on, minds on.” Doug believed that the garden space, localized to one space and accessible to all, would deliver garden and nutrition curriculum effectively, presenting information in a different way than what students in a classroom setting were accustomed to. By giving students an opportunity to plant seeds, grow plants, and enjoy the food produced, Doug knew the experience would eventually influence the food choices children were making in the cafeteria and, hopefully, outside of the school.
As Doug spoke about the progress that the CTG4CTK Grant funding had allowed for the Smith School food education curriculum and hands-on learning, he conveyed the great value in the social-emotional component of taking children outside of the classroom to learn. By teaching children how to dig in soil, plant seeds, water and tend to the growth of the plants, and eventually reap a physical harvest to their work, it allowed the children to see the benefit of putting in the same amount of effort and love into themselves and their identities. “It all connects to the social and emotional needs of the children as well as to their cultural identity. The foods being planted in the gardens are foods that the children eat at home, and the foods being served in the cafeteria can be nutritious and delicious and aligned with the culture the children are comfortable with at home,” says Doug, considering the lasting impact beyond simply building a school garden.
Doug and Kaleigh emphasized the use of the garden space, toolshed, and curriculum as a
continuous, year-round experience that can be rejuvenated and reused each year, even after the grant funding has ended. Kaleigh found the biggest reward that came from the CTG4CTK funding to be the ongoing use of the garden space, where the children can have a safe space for more SEL (Social Emotional Learning), as well as an environment to build community in the school.
But how does one get started on incorporating food education and garden experiences as well as social emotional learning and cafeteria engagement in a school? “Start talking to the [school] administration about it, get people excited so that you have a space that will always be supported. Just go for it. I think it will tremendously help the school and community,” advised Kaleigh. Doug agreed and added, “It’s not just cute that we have a school garden. You have to align it to the district and the community.”
There are a multitude of ways to support food and farm to school education into schools, early childhood education centers, farm businesses and other educational institutions. With the CT Grown for CT Kids Grant, a project or program can be funded and a team of school health and nutrition advocates can be built to support the continuous inclusion of health and farm to school themes in your community. Find out more about the grant at ctfarmtoschool.org and on the Connecticut Department of Agriculture website, and keep a lookout for the second round of the CT Grown for CT Kids Grant, coming this August.