Drive by the GMS campus and you may notice it’s looking a little snazzier and greener than usual. This is largely thanks to the hard work of the school’s sixth graders, who have been visiting campus with their advisory classes to give the school garden some much-needed TLC while getting to know each other in-person for the first time.
“After more than a year of learning at home, and experiencing social isolation, we have been so excited to bring 6th graders together in the garden. The garden visits are an opportunity to get acquainted with our campus, meet some of our staff, and most importantly connect with peers,” said Cassandra Doughtery, Director of the Learning Center. “It has been wonderful to see students laughing together, chatting about their lives, and building community as they work together to restore our garden.”
When state and local public health directives began permitting schools to plan voluntary on-campus meetings in January, bringing students in to work with the garden seemed like a natural fit. GMS Paraprofessional John Brunett leaned on his previous experience as an outdoor hiking instructor to put together a structure for logistics, schedules, and student activities, collaborating with GHS Environmental Science Teacher and Garden Program Manager Justin Berthiaume for additional gardening expertise.
“It came together really fast, but it’s been incredibly exciting to be a part of,” John said. “The most important thing we’ve been doing is getting to know each other and having fun, but the weed clearing and plant identification is setting the garden up for success next year, too.”
Though not as large as the GHS garden, the Gateway Middle garden currently is home to more than two dozen species of plants, many of them edible or used in medicine. Each week, a different advisory cohort visits the site to help care for the plots, learn about the different types of plants, and take care of any unwelcome pests.
“The students are definitely intrigued by the aphids,” John said. “I’ve noticed almost every group of students have kids who want to name the plants, as well. Seeing kids form that kind of personal connection to the other living things sharing their space is really delightful.”
Long term, John hopes to install an updated irrigation system and facilitate the return of a robust gardening club when students return to campus in the fall.
“Since this was the first introduction to campus for so many of our sixth graders this year, I’m hoping they’ll continue to feel that strong connection to the garden, and want to be leaders in helping take care of and improve it,” he said.