Waste Wise Coordinator Sara Berquist, left, shows Carlie Padgett, center, and classmates Taylor Wadlin and Capri Anter the worms for Olympic View Elementary School’s compost bin. Photo provided by Krista Hanson-Walker

Sustainability workshop to have lasting impact on schools

Ever had a kale taco?

Educators with Oak Harbor Public Schools are hopeful that kids for years to come will get the opportunity.

Arizona State University came to Oak Harbor last weekend to put on a rare, exclusive sustainability workshop, which proved invaluable for garden projects in Oak Harbor Public Schools.

“We started it because two of our elementary schools got a garden grant,” said Paula Seaman, principal of Hillcrest Elementary school. “So basically every elementary school in the district has a garden.”

While the workshop focused on sustainability, it also covered how to maintain a school garden.

It all came about when a couple of Seaman’s staff members wanted to attend a national sustainability conference and couldn’t get in.

“They said ‘no’ to two of our teachers, and I was like, ‘Why don’t you get to go?’” Seaman said. “We put a lot of work into this; it was a big deal.”

So Seaman went to bat for her staff members.

“I called the guy and said: ‘Tell me why they didn’t get in,’” Seaman said. “He kind of hemmed and hawed, so I said: ’We’re a national green ribbon school — why are my teachers not getting in?’”

Over the course of the conversation, it became apparent that the teachers were passed over for as candidates for the conference because Hillcrest’s garden program was already too advanced.

“So we started pestering him to come out here,” Seaman said. “That’s kind of how we got him.”

ASU wanted to make sure there were enough participants, and that those participants would receive a measurable benefit.

In response, Oak Harbor Public Schools drummed up participants from its five public primary schools, the Hand-in-Hand early learning center and next year’s Oak Harbor Intermediate School to attend — not to mention community stakeholders and representatives of the Washington State University Island County Extension’s master gardener program as well as the Oak Harbor Garden Club.

Each institution had some form of a garden project that could benefit from further sustainability training. Because of the elementary schools’ budding gardens — each in different stages of bloom — district personnel worked with ASU to focus the two-day workshop on gardens.

“We were able to tell them exactly what we wanted,” Seaman said. “So it’s not their canned workshop. We got to target exactly what we wanted and (ASU paid) for the whole thing.”

Seaman said that the idea behind the workshop was, in part, to help the schools that received the garden grant to develop sustainable practices for their garden projects.

“For me it’s about our community and our kids,” Seaman said. “Whatever’s working in one building needs to work in another. We’ve got to share.”

Olympic View Elementary School and Crescent Harbor Elementary School have each benefitted from the kind of sharing Seaman was talking about. Both are Title I schools that are recipients of the SNAP-ED garden grant, which allows for gardening expert Anza Muenchow to spend time with the schools, nourishing their fledgling garden programs.

Receiving Muenchow’s expertise was just the start. Olympic View and Crescent Harbor had to figure out ways to fund the development for the structures of the gardens.

Teachers Siri Bardarson, Kathryn Rudd and Chad Martin applied for a $2,000 OHE Foundation grant to install raised beds at Olympic View. The grant was awarded because they packaged it with the math goal of designing a school garden and figuring out the area and perimeter for fence and soil distribution.

In addition, second-grade teacher Debbie Smith at Olympic View secured another $2,000 OHE Foundation grant for lights and greenhouses. Olympic View also worked with Waste Wise to acquire a worm compost bin.

In the midst of all the moving parts, packed work parties, grant proposals and taste testing, the sustainability workshop arrived in Oak Harbor. Olympic View third-and-fourth grade teacher Sarah Thacker was among the attendees.

The workshop helped Olympic View teachers identify something they could do at their school that would be successful, Thacker said. “We have grand plans for an outside classroom and all of these benches, but we were supposed to pick something small that was doable.”

Thacker said Olympic View will sow the seeds of sustainability through measurable goals that will improve its garden and foster community participation at the same time.

“What we came to realize, is if we’re going to be planting things that need to be harvested in the summertime, then we need to get the community involved. So we have a lot of big plans for that — but our first baby step is to make the garden more welcoming.”

To that end, before the gardens’s founding fourth and fifth graders will graduate to Oak Harbor Intermediate School next year, they will make stepping stones with art teacher Christina Brady. Also, flower beds were added for beautification.

The hope, Thacker said, is that as the garden becomes more attractive, it will elicit an ever-increasing amount of community buy-in, and even collaboration across the different programs the school has to offer — another hallmark of sustainability.

“We have Wednesdays, where the library is open,” Thacker said. “So if families come and read and they get a free book, then hopefully they’ll go and harvest, water and take care of the garden. That’s the dream right there.”

Eventually, Olympic View wants to be able to use the vegetables they harvest in family nights or in the school lunch program during the school year, Thacker said, and donate the food to Spin Cafe or the Help House during the summer months.

Olympic View’s school garden hasn’t been without its setbacks.

Deer, vermin, birds and insects are all huge fans of gardens. As a result, teachers have had to learn how to safeguard the plants from unwanted pests.

Krista Hanson-Walker, second grade teacher at Olympic View, said dealing with the uninvited visitors has facilitated a lesson in problem solving for the students.

“As we have the big picture, and we hone it down to the smaller, workable baby steps, we also find out where the barriers are,” Hanson-Walker said. “The kids will learn from us, because we have to say: ‘Well, now we have this going on, and how do we get through that?’”

Hanson-Walker said that for all these seeds of problem solving and sustainability to take root, “the education portion has to start when you’re young.”

Garden expert Anza Muenchow, right, works in the garden with Olympic View Elementary School students Jordaya Dowell, Reese Scheppler, Brandon Panganiban and Abby Smith, clockwise from right, front to back. Muenchow’s expertise made available by a SNAP-Ed grant. Photo provided by Sarah Thacker

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