Behind Granby Elementary School is a 4-acre field that butts up to the Lafayette River.
Walking past the playground equipment through the grass, you begin to lose the sound of cars and humming air conditioning units until there is a calm silence.
Tucked away on a small peninsula between marshy creeks, the field comes to a rounded point overlooking the water. Tall pines and old oak trees line the sunny field, creating a protective shade where geese, ducks, and egrets nest and wade in the marsh. It is still and quiet. You almost forget that you are at a school in the city.
This is the spot where Granby Elementary wants to build a large productive vegetable garden, butterfly habitat, hen house, and outdoor classroom. The garden will be used as a medium to teach across disciplines as the students get to grow food, observe nature, work collaboratively, and interact with the subjects that they are learning. The garden will serve as an important tool to help reinforce Common Core and Content Standards that will help to improve test scores and overall student achievement. Students and teachers will be able to use the garden to not only enrich their subjects and courses, but they will grow a love and appreciation for our environment and our city.
When children grow their own food, they are more eager to be adventurous with their eating. They become more likely to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and make better food choices throughout their lives. This is an invaluable lesson for children to learn in order to connect them to their food systems, their own health, and their nutrition.
With the help of a new organization called The Norfolk School Garden Collective, this big idea for Granby Elementary School is becoming a reality. Though in its infancy, The Collective’s mission is to build and maintain productive food gardens and outdoor classrooms for every public school in Norfolk. There are many schools in Norfolk that already have a school garden, which is great! However, if the teacher or volunteer who is in charge of the garden retires, moves, or leaves the school, very often the garden will have no one who is able to care for and sustain it. It will be the job of The Collective to provide the volunteers and resources necessary to keep these gardens maintained and running. By pooling and sharing funding, grants, donations, and volunteers, The Collective will help to support an education at our schools that integrates and fosters an environment of engaged and project-based learning across the curriculum.
According to the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, students who participate in and engage with a garden at school show significant improvements in their academic achievement and grade point averages, specifically in math and science. One of the biggest ways that The Collective hopes to make an impact is through encouragement of good behavior by including children in the garden who struggle behaviorally. In the garden, students become more calm and their anxiety levels lower. Taking responsibility for plants and animals gives students a sense of ownership, increases their self-esteem, develops a sense of pride, and encourages good behavior. Caring for living things in the garden encourages children to have a concern for their relationships with others students and over all improves their attitudes towards school and their community.
This is the moment for Norfolk Public Schools to latch on to cutting edge research and education models that help to foster learning that connects our children to their food, community, and world. There is no better way to improve our schools’ nutrition, address childhood obesity, and improve student achievement and success than by integrating gardens into our classrooms and engaging our students’ minds through creative, hands on exploration.
Friday, June 10, from 7pm-9pm at O’Connor Brewing Company, there will an interest meeting for anyone who would like to help, donate, or volunteer with The Collective. If you love to garden, if you love children, or if you just want to help make difference in Norfolk Public Schools, then come to the meeting and give your input! The idea is there and its time has come.