Rockheights Middle School, located in the Township of Esquimalt is a school with 215 students, 56% of whom are considered at risk in the vulnerability index. For our specific garden project, a class of 25 grade six students and five grade 8 students are directly involved. Our grade 8 students are volunteering their time and expertise, while learning along the way.
The Farm to School program has helped us to connect with members of our community including but not limited to Aboriginal Elders, Esquimalt Parks and Recreation municipal workers (Parks division), staff in the School District Grounds Department and the FoodSafe Program.
Students began the season learning about what plants need to be successful including learning about the seasons and the amount of sunlight that occurs during different times of the year. They also learned how the sunshine impacts growth. An example of the way that this was incorporated was that students made sundials out of recycled materials and used them to track how much sunlight was present at various times in the school year.
For approximately one month at the beginning of the project, our Aboriginal Skills Development teacher, worked with the students to teach them about the native plants that are growing in our local community. Students learned about medical and traditional uses for many plants including the Camus, the Thistle, and the Oregon Grape.
Students conducted self-guided experiments on plant growth which included; soil type (organic vs. non organic), amount of water, location, sunlight and seed depth. They used the information they learned to plant their own garden using the best techniques as found in the self-guided experiments.
In the fall, our School District put up a fence to provide a safe space for the cold frame garden beds. We bought additional gardening implements and gloves on the fall sale racks, so our gardening shed is growing too.
Our in school connection has been our grade 8 volunteers working to help plan and prepare the salad bar. helped the older students to understand what the younger students needed. The second bed was built by a volunteer community member who has a connection a connection to Rockheights. Due to these delays, our garden didn’t get planted until later in the year than originally hoped. It was planted in early April. Since planting, students have checked on the garden daily and were assigned tasks in order to monitor the plants. Some of the tasks included: fertilizing, watering, thinning, weeding and opening the cold frame bed.
The focus of our garden again this year has been a “salad garden.” The plants include: lettuce, radishes, mixed greens, mustard greens, spinach, peas, beans and green onions. We have also started experimenting with herbs with the hope of supplying herbs to a local restaurant. These plants are quick growing plants and the students will be able to enjoy them in a salad in approximately 6-8 weeks from planting. As a part of the Farm to School grant, our home economics teacher and one of our Educational Assistants have been integral with setting up a salad bar 8 times this year. On Wednesdays, we offer home made soup and a salad bar. At Rockheights Middle School we have turned the mid-week sprawl into the mid-week burst because of the fabulous plates of salad that are being anticipated by students and the nutrition it affords for productive afternoons following lunch. Our soups are infused with herbs from the garden.
On a field trip, the class of students participated in our local township “Earth Day clean-up” of invasive species, as we do every year. It helped students to make the connection between local, native plants and our community.
Next year, we have a grade 7 teacher who has committed to coming on board with his class. They will build two more beds and begin in the fall, growing the program and having more students involved both through educational programs and we will continue with our Soup Club/Salad Bar students. Eventually, we will create a seating area in the larger garden bed area in order to take the classroom outside, especially during the independent reading time in our day. Our goal is to continue this project from the beginning of the school year and we feel that we will be able to do so, now that our garden beds are complete. This will allow for several harvests throughout the year.