– By Nea Maaty –
In the heart of St. James Town, you will find one of the most multicultural schools in North America – Rose Avenue Junior Public School. The school has a student population of over 650 students. For more than 15 years, they have integrated community gardening into their curriculum with the help of Green Thumbs, a community not-for-profit organization dedicated to community gardening and education.
Green Thumbs started collaborating with Rose Avenue in 2007 when Sunday Harrison, Executive Director of Green Thumbs, approached the school and asked if they were interested in having their own garden. “It was amazing that the school was open to the idea and right away they got interested in the program,” says Harrison. Green Thumbs and Rose Avenue Junior Public School have co-developed the garden spaces with the school ever since.
Harrison tells us how amazing the teaching staff is at Rose Avenue. “Out of our three schools involved in our program, they [Rose Avenue] are the most engaged… And it’s because they know how much the kids in the community need that green space, and how valuable it really is.”
Rox Hayward, a teacher at the school, explains more about the idea showing photos of her students. “My class has done a couple of different programs with Green Thumbs over the past years. We’ve done a program where the students learned about worms.”
In one of the photos, a kid is holding an earthworm egg which has little spherical blobs in it. “Knowing about earthworms and being able to handle them – that was a big step for little students. It’s not something that they would normally do,” says Hayward.
One of the things the students have gained through the gardening project is learning about Indigenous plants and how to grow them. This was an amazing opportunity to educate the children about Indigenous culture and how to respect it.
“Our role as a community partner is to provide opportunities for teachers to bring their students out to the garden and basically the garden becomes the teacher,” says Harrison. When they are able to do that, the students become much more interested in digging in the garden, planting seeds, weeding and growing their own plants; the fruits of their labour.
Although Green Thumbs is focused on school gardening, the gardens become community spaces in the summer when the kids are on vacation. One of the main goals of community gardens is to produce food and to help students understand the soil, plants, their community, and their food needs.
“A school garden can produce a fair amount of food but it’s more about the education, more about the process for kids to learn where healthy food comes from – and it comes from healthy soil,” explains Harrison. “These programs teach the kids how to keep the soil healthy and how to grow food. Kids also have a great opportunity to taste these foods.”
Hayward agrees, adding that a school community garden is a multi-layered program that has helped foster education and inclusion. “Kids are engaging and cooperating all while learning to respect each other. They are learning the Three R’s – respect yourself, respect each other, and respect the environment. It is an amazing fact that even bullying and injuries were non-existent after the program.”
Green Thumbs has aspirations to expand the program to more schools but like any charitable institution, they require funding. Despite their importance, school boards view school gardening programs like the one at Rose Avenue, as an extracurricular activity. Harrison’s hope is that gardeners will be hired by schools the same way librarians are hired to help kids learn to read. “We would have gardeners help kids learn how to plant; learning about the soil and earth and planet and good healthy food.”
Let’s hope that one day they will get their wish.
To watch the video about the community garden at Rose Avenue Junior Public School visit: https://youtu.be/pr2xO4A4U_w
Nea Maaty is a journalist with the FOCUS Media Arts Centre ~ a partner of The Corner.