NOTE: Each week throughout the school year, we will visit a school across Eastern Carver County Schools. Some weeks the plan may be to stop in multiple classrooms by grade, or by subject. Other weeks it may highlight a certain specialist group. The purpose is to give families and our community a glimpse into the every-day learning environment happening in our buildings. A chance to spotlight the incredible work our teachers and staff do on a daily basis for our students, and to showcase the incredible work our students produce as well. So, keep your Eye on ECCS!
It was only by blind luck that Judy and Steve Harder stumbled upon the learning garden at Chanhassen Elementary in 2020. They had just moved to town from rural Mountain Lake in southern Minnesota.
Retired, they inquired about volunteering. Soon, they were leading the charge.
Thanks to their hard work and the work of other volunteers, the garden is now an extension of the classroom for all students at Chanhassen Elementary.
“Judy and Steve have brought the Learning Garden to life. It has been a true blessing to the school to have this outdoor classroom and as well to the community as we are all learning so much from them and loving what the Learning Garden has provided for all,” parent and Learning Garden organizer Erin Reisdorf said.
Judy, a Master Gardener through the University of Minnesota, developed a curriculum for the different grades. She even went back to school for one semester to take a course on soils last spring. Steve incorporated one of his hobbies, bird-watching, into the lesson plan.
Each class had a chance to visit the Learning Garden multiple times in September. Oftentimes one part of the class would be with Steve in the raised beds section, while the other half was inside the garden with Judy. Each lesson brought games and fun, scavenger hunts and exploration.
“That’s our mission - to have this relationship with nature and be one with it, and in it,” Judy said.
A sample of the lessons includes studying pollinators, soil and root systems, what is in a plant, what is around a plant, and the relationship we have with the environment, science of light, what we can learn from a tree and plant, and a compost system.
When a large Ash tree was removed near the garden due to disease, the Harders asked for a section of the tree so students could study its history and its eventual demise.
“The kids are very excited to see all of the stuff in the garden and how it’s all grown over the summer,” Judy said.
The crops are seasonally-based to maximize the time when students are in school. Seeding began indoors and eventually the students were planting in the garden last spring. The late spring harvest turned out turnips, radishes, lettuces such as spinach, and peas.
The fall harvest includes tomatoes, red sweet peppers, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, and green beans.
Select classrooms will help harvest the vegetables after the first frost. The tomato vines were recently measured by students at 15-feet long.
The produce that is grown is available to the cafeteria when they can use it. Otherwise, students have a chance to try it when offered in the Learning Garden classes or there are opportunities for staff, students, and families to take some home.
“Everyone in the school, (principal Greg Lange), the teachers, they are all so supportive of what we are doing. It’s a great partnership that we hope to keep expanding,” Judy said.
LEARNING GARDEN MURALS
If you find yourself near the Chanhassen Elementary Learning Garden, make sure to check out the seasonal murals designed and drawn by students.
The students in third and fourth grade classes last school year entered a drawing contest for the mural design. The winners were Slyvia Cutler, Ayla Boudreau-Landis, Emma Woolsey, Hadley Murphy, and Matthew Villegas Garcia.
“Their drawings and designs are featured on the Garden Murals. First they drew their designs on the primed plywood. Then students in third and fourth grades painted the drawings during their art class. There are three parts to the mural that change with the seasons,” Jean Ische, former art teacher at Chanhassen Elementary, now at Jonathan Elementary, said.
The seasons featured are spring, fall, and winter.
Across town at Bluff Creek Elementary, their school garden is also an integral part of the school community. Each May, the school partners with Carver/Scott County Master Gardeners, MN Ag in the Classroom, Lakewinds Food Co-op, and the Bluff Creek Elementary BCE PTO Garden Committee for Nature Plant and Play Day.
The school’s PTO provided the funding and manpower needed to rebuild the garden beds last spring.
“The Bluff Creek School Garden serves as an outdoor classroom to experience real-world learning,” Anna Edlund, Bluff Creek’s Gifted Services and STEAM Lab Facilitator, said. Beyond connections supporting state science standards focusing on plants, the garden allows:staff to interact with children in a nontraditional classroom setting, often learning new gifts and talents about students.
For their part, children can deepen their understanding of natural resources and connect to prior learning about Native American traditions as part of their work in the school garden.
The Bluff Creek Elementary school garden has provided many benefits to students, said BCE Garden Committee member Julie O’Connell. “Not all kids get the opportunity to have their own garden. Together with our community partners, we are able to give each student the chance to!”
Students are engaged through each step of learning how to grow a thriving garden from a seed.
“This hands-on learning allows the students to develop connections between what they learn in class and nature. The Bluff Creek Garden teaches us all new things each season. We love to see the excitement, creativity, and knowledge that each student brings to our events,” O’Connell said.