WEST NEWBURY — Hands-on lessons in gardening at the Page School has cultivated tendrils between school departments, community organizations and commercial ventures.

Kate Wood, the Page School art teacher, and Krystelle Griskiewicz, a third-grade teacher, have brought a new multi-disciplinary approach to the third grade by bringing children outside the classroom and into the garden.

Today the Page School garden has expanded from an original four beds to a total of nine raised beds planted with herbs, vegetables and flowers.

The garden project broke ground last month after a year of planning; it was supported by grants from the Mass. Department of Agriculture ($900) and the Pentucket Education Foundation ($200).

Wood wanted to bring a new project to the school that would be locally based and still teach universal lessons of empowerment, stewardship and problem-solving. She had learned the educational theory of Place-Based Education during a summer workshop sponsored by the National Park Service [ed. and Essex Heritage] several years ago. The theory “centers curriculum in a specific locale that integrates content and creates focus,” according to an education website.

In this case, the locale that was chosen was a defunct garden project already in place on the school grounds.

“We wanted to show the students that they have importance in the community and that we need to come together to solve the problems in the community,” Wood said.

The garden was planned and planted through the collective efforts of educators, parents, community organizations and commercial ventures, and has tied together so many individual points of light that it is a virtual constellation of moving and interrelated parts.

Students have been encouraged to learn many disciplines as they tended to the garden, as they studied environmental and science lessons and successfully cross-pollinated math with English arts and history.

“In learning about the garden, the children also learned about the history of the school grounds,” Wood said. “It was once a farm for a sea captain and had gardens. They are restoring the grounds to an original purpose.”

Since third-grade history explores the period from 1600 to 1800, the teachers designed the project to mimic a Colonial garden. The students visited Pioneer Village in Salem and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home, The Old Manse, in Concord to see what offerings a Colonial garden contained.

As a result, they planted herbs that were commonly used in cooking and in home healing, as well as traditional vegetables inspired by Native Americans of the time period. Some of the more unusual inclusions are medicinal plants such as feverfew used to control fevers, lavender used to control bedbugs and chamomile used to control “fits.”

“Integrating the Colonial garden with the school garden dovetailed with our plants and seeds science unit and our Massachusetts unit which spans from 1600 to 1800,” Griskiewicz wrote in an email. “Having the students write purposeful thank-you letters to volunteers and local businesses was meaningful and appreciated by the recipients,”

It has also successfully encouraged collaboration with local organizations such as the West Newbury Grange, which has volunteered many energetic gardeners, and local businesses such as Johnson Lumber Co., responsible for the donations of the pallets used in making composting bins. State Rep. Lenny Mirra donated the topsoil.

Not only has the project bridged lessons, but it will supply the children with nourishment and the kitchen manager with flavorings to enhance “Tasty Tuesdays.”

“The garden is about giving crops to the Page School kitchen for making delicious lunches,” third-grader Tristan Bukow said.

“If they know they planted the foods, they are so much more willing to try the blue potatoes, and they taste so much more delicious,” Griskiewicz said.

Parents have also endorsed the garden through words and deeds. Signups will be held for families to volunteer for a week’s worth of weeding and watering over the summer in order to bring in the harvest in the fall.

“Having a garden creates another teaching resource to support academic classroom work,” parent Ted Stedman said. “Students, in effect, have a ‘lab’ to see how plants grow and all the necessary environmental conditions that support life.”

“I would like to see the garden be a resource for the entire school,” Stedman said. “I think we have captured the school’s attention and I hope other teachers will begin to see what gardening would add to their students’ academic experience.”

Read more about Essex Heritage’s Education Programming.

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