The courtyard at Pleasant Hill ES is the home of the school garden, and although it started off small, it has grown to include garden beds, rain water collecting barrels, composting bins, a storage shed, and an outdoor classroom, complete with tree stump seats and a blackboard.
The garden was formed by Liz Ayers, the school PE teacher. Ayers worked to plan the garden as it was being built and to provide room for future expansion in a way that met with campus expectations. She applied for a Leander ISD Educational Excellence Foundation (LEEF) grant, which provided resources to make the garden a reality.
Once the garden was built, Ayers frequently announced opportunities for teachers to take part in cultivating the garden and recommended ways of using the garden for classroom curriculum. Former Pleasant Hill ES teacher and current PTA volunteer Francine Erickson saw incredible value in the garden as a teaching tool.
“It’s authentic learning in a meaningful environment,” Erickson said. “I saw that as a classroom teacher.”
Erickson formed a Garden Club, which met after school on Fridays. At the beginning of the 2015-16 school year, the club began the year with a “Three Sisters Soup Celebration” garden party where the students made Round and Round Soup with their garden produce and discussed the Native American “Three Sisters Tale” and the “Tale of the Water Cycle.” Next year, Erickson plans on kicking off the school year with a salsa party.
When the garden is full, the Garden Club and parent volunteers donate their harvest to a local food pantry – one of the many teachable moments, Erickson said, available thanks to the garden.
From math and measuring, to health and wellness, to the science of composting, Erickson said the skills the students learn in the garden are lessons that can be referred to in classroom in a variety of areas.“This is a powerful tool,” Erickson said. “My dream is for teachers to take it and run with it.”