On May 13, Nathaniel Hawthorne Elementary announced the importance of the new addition to their school: a community garden. According to a Dallas ISD press release, the elementary school recently moved to a new campus and hosted an inauguration for the new garden on May 6.
The project first launched earlier in the school year when students returned to in-person learning. Instructional Coach Rebecca Ajuluchukwu is behind the program, and she found funding through a grant for Innovative Teaching from the Junior League of Dallas.
Kiki Gao, the Grants for Innovative Teaching chair for the Junior League of Dallas, stated that the garden project immediately stood out to the Junior League.
“We provide these specific grants to educators who are working on an innovative, creative project that would complement the kids’ education,” Gao said. “This project is one that really stood out from the beginning. The teachers were very passionate and it was very well thought out, so it was very easy to advocate for it.”
Ajuluchukwu first got the idea at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when she spent a lot of time in her garden.
“During the pandemic, I had a lot of free time on my hands and really started investing in my own garden at home. When we got back to school, I realized that we had a lot of social-emotional changes with the students, and thought ‘if gardening brings me a lot of passion, it can bring a lot of joy and passion to others,’” Ajuluchukwu shared in the press release.
According to Dallas ISD, there are several beds in the Hawthorne garden, and they are growing peppers, tomatoes, lettuces, and other fruits and vegetables. Students decorated stepping stones and the beds themselves, and parent volunteers laid the soil. The seeds were first planted at the start of April by the Hawthorne Gardening Club.
“Our garden is an extension of what’s going on inside our building,” Ajuluchukwu said. “It’s another learning space for the students, so we can teach the kids outdoors, in nature. It also connects to the social and emotional aspect because it’s a place where they can have peace and quiet outside while they learn. They have been taking ownership and they’re the ones who are always telling me what they see and what they’re finding, and that’s the best part.”
Other North Texas schools have implemented gardening programs for students, including Fort Worth ISD. At the end of April, Fort Worth announced a partnership with Blue Zones Project to create gardens on some school campuses. According to a news release from the City of Fort Worth, 20 schools in the district have partnered with Blue Zones, and many of them are in communities with a lack of resources.
In the news release, Morningside Elementary principal, Vanessa Cuarenta, shared that the partnership will help rebuild the school’s already-established garden.
“Our garden has always been a point of pride, and we are incredibly grateful to everyone helping get it back in shape,” Cuarenta said. “Our students love learning about plants and helping maintain the garden. They’re getting tangible lessons in science, nutrition and healthy eating, while also learning the value of patience and hard work.”
Blue Zones Project’s garden program is part of its mission to make Fort Worth a healthier city.