Garden Program blooms at Charles Helmers Elementary

Fifth graders from Margo Grisanti's class at Charles Helmers Elementary explore the new garden at the school on Friday afternoon. KATHARINE LOTZE/Signal. 08262016

Students at Charles Helmers Elementary School now have an interactive, hands-on way to learn through the school’s gardening program and curriculum.

Officials from the Saugus Union School District (SUSD) and the school officially unveiled the school’s Garden Program and mural during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning.

“I am truly excited for all of you—our students, our family, our community—to get into the garden, get your hands dirty and have fun while you’re learning,” Principal Pete Bland said.

The idea for the garden program began with project leader Natalie Freed in September 2015.  Freed worked with members of the Helmers Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to win a $10,000 grant from Seeds of Change, an organic seed company, for the construction of the garden last year.

“There are so many reasons why having this new garden is such a great thing,” Freed said.  “There are so many things you can learn, it’s fun, you can get your hands dirty.”

The school program, set to begin Monday and Tuesday, will incorporate Lisa Ely’s “Karden’s Garden School Garden Curriculum” to correlate hands-on lessons with concepts learned in each student’s grade level, while also fulfilling California Education Requirements.

Students from Charles Helmers Elementary School hold up their hands in excitement as Lisa Ely, the school’s garden program specialist and curriculum guide, speaks at the school during the garden program and mural ribbon cutting ceremony Friday. Christina Cox/The Signal

Through the class, students will be a part of a real-life learning lab as they discover how to grow basic ingredients, experiment with solutions, harvest fruits and vegetables, complete measurements and more.

“A school garden provides countless opportunities for project-based learning that further inspires and engages students’ interests in the learning process,” Helmers PTA President Tre Conway said.  “[It] also creates a sensory-rich environment which is a welcomed change in the classroom for all students.”

Ely said the program is about more than just gardening; the garden curriculum will also incorporate skills in English, writing, art and math.

“We’re going to take everything you’re learning in the classroom and we’re going to put it right into that garden and it’s all going to grow together like our plants,” Ely said.

The outdoor garden also features an educational mural painted by artist Elizabeth Tydall which is centered around the theme of “growth.”

“I wanted it to be beautiful, but also educational,” Tydell said.  “So hidden in the garden are about 40 vocabulary words about plants growing… like ‘dormant’ and ‘photosynthesis.’”

Overall, the garden is meant to foster a shared love of nature and encourage children to use their five senses and their imagination.

“I know this is going to be a very special project for you, you are going to learn so much and enjoy it,” SUSD Superintendent Joan Lucid said.  “Take care of your garden, make it grow and enjoy the process.”

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