Near the bus drop-off area in front of willow lane elementary school in Macungie, Pa., is an unexpected sight: a raised-bed garden that produces an abundance of fruits and vegetables. Though it honors the building’s presence on former farmland, the garden has the greater goal of enhancing student learning as an outdoor classroom.
“I’m a believer in providing hands-on, project-based learning opportunities for children,” says Dr. Anthony Moyer ’11, the principal at Willow Lane and a Doctor of Education (EdD) alumnus. Inspired by the Edible Schoolyard Project that restaurateur Alice Waters started to involve students in growing and sharing healthy foods, Moyer’s school launched its own project two years ago. Parents, teachers, and students were enlisted to raise funds and put the raised garden beds in place.
Students have planted seeds, tested soil, charted and monitored the growth of fruits and vegetables, and created journals and videos about the garden. They’ve also learned about sustainable gardening and healthy eating. Activities in the outdoor classroom support the school’s science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) initiative and meet the goals of the East Penn School District curriculum.
“We’ve used the foods we harvested in the cafeteria salad bar,” Moyer explains. “Students have learned about proper nutrition, and why it’s important to eat healthy foods. Children are getting excited about eating lettuce and broccoli, and they now want to grow their own food at home.” In the future, the school may sell its harvest at local farmers markets and donate the proceeds to charity or distribute the produce directly to needy residents.
Enlist school leaders. Don’t overlook this important first step, Moyer cautions. “You need interested teachers and parents, but if you have leadership involved, the rest will fall into place.”
Clearly communicate your goals. “You will need a core group with a passion for the project,” he says. “In any school, you’ll find parents who want their children to come home excited about what they learned.”
Don’t hesitate to start. Moyer’s school held two fundraising dinners and sold raffle tickets to pay for the 10 raised garden beds—but you could move forward even sooner. “It doesn’t cost a lot of money,” he explains. “All you really need is a shovel. You can enrich your soil with composted scraps from your cafeteria and collect seeds from your home garden. We constructed raised beds on a Saturday in March thanks to the support of a collaborative team of students, parents, and staff.”
Be creative with the curriculum. “When students go outside, their senses are stimulated,” Moyer explains. “It’s experimental, experiential, and engaging.”