Showing posts with label greenhouse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label greenhouse. Show all posts

Friday, September 2, 2022

Grant supports outdoor learning at Windham Middle School

Windham Middle School students work on building raised
gardens for planting seeds last spring at the school. WMS is
the recipient of a $1,500 grant from the Maine
Environmental Education Association for continuing to create
new ways to help students appreciate outdoor activities.
By Ed Pierce 

A new grant is helping students at Windham Middle School to learn more about the natural world, fostering independence and promoting spending more time outside.

WMS is one of 160 in the state to receive funding from the Maine Environmental Education Association, helping to create more outdoor learning opportunities statewide. MEEA has distributed $200,000 for the initiative and WMS has received a grant of $1,500 for teachers to reimagine classrooms outside.

The grant benefits WMS educators by supporting a project to create a new garden/greenhouse at the school. Statewide, MEEA grants were awarded to schools for projects including outdoor recreation, science exploration, art outdoors, curriculum and professional development, snowshoes, gardening and birding.

The grant applicants were selected on the basis of innovative ways to engage students in the outdoors and reported on the wide range of positive impacts to their students, from increased school attendance to academic learning outcomes to improved mental and physical health.

“At MEEA, we are so grateful for the amazing educators who have worked so hard this year to get their students outside learning. Research shows that outdoor learning has hugely positive mental and physical health benefits, and also academic benefits for youth,” said MEEA’s Executive Director Olivia Griset. “We also know that not all youth have access to the outdoors, which is an environmental justice issue. These teachers and projects happening in public schools across the state are helping to ensure that our youth have positive experiences gaining a deeper connection to nature in their local community.” 

Griset said that teachers and school administrators across Maine are stretching to fill the gap between school funding and their students’ needs and these grants are highly valuable.

“Often with limited resources, teachers are accomplishing incredible projects, engaging a variety of students, and bringing outdoor learning to new extents across the state. The impact of these projects supports thousands of students across the state," she said. "Supporting teachers and schools in the pursuit of outdoor learning is a critical piece of MEEA’s mission as the organization strives to enhance and amplify the efforts of individuals and organizations that are building environmental awareness, fostering appreciation and understanding of the environment, and taking action towards creating equitable and resilient communities.”

Using the MEEA grant, materials were purchased to create raised beds, soil, starter trays, and seeds for a school garden at WMS School.

School administrators say that WMS students took a lead role in nearly every step of the process, marking the first time that designing and building raised beds, including researching the design, planting the seeds, and using power tools were incorporated in an outdoor classroom there.

“I used to be afraid to go outside because of hornets and ticks and bugs but building outside distracted me from my fear of bugs. It was exciting to use power tools, and I don’t even mind the bug bites I got,” WMS students said about the garden/greenhouse project. “The grant got their money’s worth because this garden will last for a long time. I’m looking forward to coming to school to use the gardens over the summer, and it’ll be a pretty nice home for the worms.” 

The beds that were created at WMS were offered for families to use over the summer, and several families living in apartments nearby responded positively to the offer. As a result, school officials says that this fall’s harvest will be able to feed WMS students during their snacks and lunches this fall.

According to Angela Mavrich of the MEEA, this is the first community garden for the families of students at Windham Middle School, and she said that first group of students using the garden now have all the necessary skills and knowledge to go from the vision to execution of raised beds.

“MEEA continues to seek impactful partnerships with local communities and organizations during this changing cultural and environmental climate, as the equity-centered environmental work that MEEA creates plays a key role in building an environmentally literate Maine; where all people can engage civically and understand the relationship between their wellbeing and that of their environment,” Mavrich said.

Griset said that MEEA expects the 2022-2023 school year will be as successful as last year’s program with a new round of grants to be awarded in November and anyone or an organization is encouraged to join the effort by donating to this fund. To do so, send an email to

“We are grateful to all the individuals who donated to make this project possible and to all the amazing teachers for their incredible work,” she said. <

Friday, August 5, 2022

Healthy Pickins Garden at JSMS provides not only vegetables, but life lessons for students

The Healthy Pickins Garden was created at Jordan-Small
Middle School in Raymond in 2010 as a way to foster
community involvement and provide students with a 
better understanding of gardening and the work that is
involved in growing produce. PHOTO BY JOHN  KELLER
By Andrew Wing 

Vegetable gardening is a rewarding activity that can provide fresh, flavorful produce and it also offers the benefits of exercise, fresh air, and learning more about how these important nutrients are grown. At Jordan-Small Middle School, that’s exactly what they have shown the students there for over a decade with its Healthy Pickins Garden.

Healthy Pickins Garden was built in 2010 and that along with the adjacent greenhouse has been active since then. It came about through a grant that Dennis Woodruff and John Keller had obtained that furnished the funding to build the greenhouse and furnish supply tools, bags of soil, fencing, and seed packets. Lori Dibiase-Gagnon also played a key role in getting the first vegetable garden started and since 2010, thousands of pounds of vegetables have been grown for the school lunch program with lots of help from the JSMS students.

Physicians say that fresh vegetables are a central and integral part of any healthy diet. Vegetables are loaded with essential nutrients that promote better health, including antioxidants and vitamins. And as many benefits as vegetables provide to one’s health, there are also benefits of growing the vegetables in a vegetable garden as having a vegetable garden can save hundreds of dollars on groceries.

Over the years, JSMS students and staff have grown many varieties of vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, beans, carrots, beets, onions, garlic, spinach, lettuce, eggplant, collard greens, potatoes, cabbage, kale, cucumbers, broccoli, melons, and a variety of herbs. These fresh organic grown vegetables have provided hundreds of healthy and delicious meals to the students and staff at JSMS over the years and when there has been a surplus of harvest, the vegetables have been donated to the Raymond Community School and other schools in the district, as well as the Raymond Food Pantry. 

The greenhouse at JSMS is active from September to November, and then again from March through May. Some of the cooler weather crops such as spinach and lettuce are grown in the greenhouse raised beds and are used in the JSMS lunch program salad bar. The greenhouse also has a cooling fan that was installed by former student, Al Potter, which is powered by a battery and solar panel which former JSMS applied tech students helped construct.

Keller, one of the men who helped start the garden, has been involved since its inception. He just retired following 26 years working in Special Education at JSMS. He was also the school’s cross-country coach for over 20 years, and despite his retirement, he will return this fall to co-coach alongside John Powers and plans to substitute teach when needed. Most importantly, Keller plans to still watch over the Healthy Pickins Garden as he plays such a key role performing the summer care for it until the students and staff return this fall.

All in all, Healthy Pickins Garden is a big deal at JSMS, and the students there play an integral role in it.

“The majority of the students that help with the vegetable garden are primarily 5th grade science students, but the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade students have helped as well during the school day and in the after-school garden club,” said Keller. “The students do the majority of the work preparing the garden in the spring and harvesting crops when they return to school in late August through the final harvest in late October.”

When Healthy Pickins Garden was created back in 2010, those at JSMS were hoping that it would provide food for not only the school, but the community as well, and more than that, they wanted the students to take something away from working in the garden, and Keller believes that they have done just that.

“There are so many benefits for these children at JSMS being involved in a gardening program,” said Keller. “Vegetable gardening teaches students about agriculture, nutrition, and life skills as they can learn how to grow vegetables for the rest of their lives. Also, school gardens just help promote healthy lifestyles.”

Now, 12 years after it began, there is no denying that Healthy Pickins Garden has been a success, and Keller says that he wants to thank everyone who has contributed to that success.

“The success of the school garden over the years has truly been a school and town community effort,” said Keller. “It would not be possible without the support of the fifth-grade teachers Lynne Latham and Kelly Crockett, kitchen staff Jamie Harmon, Scott Walsh, and Santa Rodriquez-Lopez, Chef Ryan Roderick, former Chef Samantha Cowens-Gasbaro, RSU 14 Director of School Nutrition Jeanne Reilly, special education staff Erika Greene, Moira Case, and Kim Hutchins, occupational therapist Lori Fletcher and her daughter Emma, JSMS head groundskeeper Tom Gumble, longterm and now former principal Randy Crockett, master gardener Sheila Frappier who has also led the after-school gardening program, Lyndsay Stretch of Petals Farm and Garden, school custodians, and community volunteers April Fey and Mary Thornton, but most importantly the students of JSMS.” <