About a dozen elementary school students in pink leotards and butterfly wings pranced in front of Turner Elementary School as a crowd of a few hundred cheered them.
“They are so pretty,” said Lisaura Naverrete, a mother of three Turner students in the crowd, which was flanked by large dirt piles, wheelbarrows and dozens of shovels and pickaxes.
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The event commemorated the one-day construction of a learning garden at W.J. Turner Elementary. The effort was sponsored by REAL School Gardens, a Fort Worth nonprofit that has supported creating similar learning gardens at 105 elementary schools across North Texas, including in the Arlington and Birdville school districts. Plans call for the Fort Worth-based program to expand nationally.
Forty schools in the Fort Worth district operate gardens, which are designed to provide hands-on learning, said Scott Feille, regional director for REAL School Gardens, which was established by the Rainwater Charitable Foundation. REAL stands for Rainwater Environmental Alliance for Learning.
“We’re all about academics and success in school,” Feille said. “We basically do two things: We build a garden within the school community and we train the teachers.”
For three years, REAL School Gardens staff members, including Feille, who is a former teacher at Westcliff Elementary School in Fort Worth, will work with Turner staff to build exercises that incorporate the garden into students’ lessons.
Using the garden, fourth-graders can work on math exercises, such as calculating the area of a vegetable bed, he said. Kindergarten students also can use math skills by using a nonstandard measuring stick to calculate the spaces between seeds, he said.
“When we’re done with the initial three-year partnership, the teacher will know how to use the garden and it is embedded into instruction and the culture of the school,” Feille said. “We won’t just build a garden and leave.”
Plans call for Turner’s community garden to have fruit trees, picnic tables, a rose garden, storage shed, vegetable beds, herb garden, a weather station and a rain barrel.
Bird feeders and rocks are expected to be decorated by students, Principal Elida Gonzalez said. The garden is also expected to feature a white board so that teachers can use it to instruct students.
“This is wonderful,” said Zuemie Rosalez, who has a third-grader at the school. “We’ve needed something like this for our kids. My son really enjoys science. He comes home talking about all the good stuff that they are learning.
“And just to be outside in the fresh air with the fruits and all these trees, it’s great,” Rosalez said. “It gets them away from the technology side and lets them have a real feel of the living things around them.”
Turner teacher Janet Shull, who has been in favor of an outdoor learning environment for many years, said the garden will boost learning among students.
“Children learn so well with hands-on activities,” Shull said. “I knew this would happen. It just took a while to happen. It’s going to help this neighborhood and instill new habits.”
Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705
REAL School Garden
“Community garden” sponsors include:
FedEx; the Miles Foundation’ Texas Christian University-Nature of Giving’ C.B. Baird Jr. Foundation; Baylor L. Agerton Trust; Robert E. and Evelyn McKee Foundation; and Mercedez-Benz Financial Services.
Source: REAL School Gardens