Park Road gives back

Ainsley Chambers, fourth-grader, and Gram Chambers, second-grader, pick watermelons from the garden.

Although students at Park Road Montessori are on summer break, the gardens they planted before school let out in June are still growing and benefiting the community in a great way.

The local Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church has packed their shelves with fresh produce this summer, such as yellow squash and zucchini, tomatoes and more.

With each classroom at the school equipped with their own gardens, many upper elementary classrooms of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders chose to plant vegetable gardens last year, and for the first time have been able to maintain the gardens throughout the summer months. With around five steady families who live in nearby Park Road neighborhoods and a handful of other volunteers associated with the school, Charlotte Fletcher, the experiential science curriculum assistant at Park Road, said the school has been able to donate around 73 pounds of fresh produce to the food pantry so far. They have intentions of donating more this fall after kids return.

“We thought it was important for the students to be involved with service in some way,” she said. “It’s exciting that students have a part in growing the food and then giving it, too.”

Last year was the first for Fletcher’s position, the first time a staff member has been designated to outside learning. During the school year, Fletcher visits each classroom once a week, where students shovel, plant and learn to maintain and harvest their gardens, whether they are vegetable, butterfly or flower gardens. Around five of the classes planted seven raised vegetable gardens.

Before this year, Fletcher said the school mostly focused on planting spring crops such as sugar snap peas – crops that students could harvest before school let out. By parents volunteering to help throughout the summer, and with Fletcher’s added efforts, she hopes the gardens are a good learning experience for families.

“The whole point was not for the parent to do it, but for the parent to manage the gardens with their children,” Fletcher said. “I love the fact that the kids are out there and are excited to be outside and learning about nature. What better place to be than the garden? We have an amazing campus to do science on.”

Kelly Platt, a Park Road Montessori parent, has helped Fletcher all summer long, leading a team of kids every Thursday in watering and weeding each garden bed.

“It’s just a nice way to give back to the school and to do something with the kids week to week,” she said. “I think it’s important for the kids to see the process of the garden so they know the work that goes on behind the scenes.

“And to know they are giving back to people in our community that are in need – they really go the extra mile because they know they are serving other people.”

The school also is big on composting, a reason Fletcher believes their gardens have been so successful.

“All of our classes compost and I’m convinced our gardens have been so healthy because our compost goes right back into the soil,” she said. “I’m sure they wouldn’t have grown as well if we didn’t have as much compost as we had.”

As fall approaches, Fletcher said the group has been preparing to harvest their fall crop of mostly butternut squash and melons, just in time for all students to help out once school starts back – when they hope to make more donations.

“Besides it being a great learning environment, we want a focus that takes it out into the world. It teaches them to care for the environment – they’re our future,” Fletcher said. “For me, it’s just really important for them to have a heart for other people who have needs and know they can help meet those needs and have fun and learn.”

Morgan Smith, education@thecharlotteweekly.com

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