Creating a buzz about school gardens

The buzz heard recently at Sir Charles Tupper Secondary School was not just from power saws in the workshop, but also a unique mentoring opportunity that joined Grade 12 Tupper tech students with grade 5 and 6 students from neighbouring schools.

During the woodworking sessions, seven giant food garden planters were built as part of this year's School Gardens Project developed by the Society Promoting Environmental Conservation (SPEC),

Catriona Gordon, SPEC's school gardens coordinator, helped organize the collaboration between Grade 12 Tupper technology students and grade 5/6 classes from Brock and Queen Elizabeth elementary schools. Marnie Newell runs similar lessons at L' Ecole Bilingue in French and at Grenfell Elementary.

Russ Evans, Tupper's technical school coordinator enjoyed working with SPEC and the elementary schools to bring the project together. As he explains some great coincidences lead to its success.

"I was outside of Tupper one afternoon taking apart a wooden pallet to use it for a project. Al Matsala, one of my former students saw me and asked what I was doing. When I told him I was salvaging wood for the garden project he said he could get me better quality wood," Evans said.

What arrived was a whole truckload of wood. Matsala, who works for Forintek, Canada's national wood products research institute located at UBC, arranged for the wood to be delivered to the school.

"Al told me they do tests on wood that are non-destructive and as a result they have a lot of wood that can be recycled once testing is done," said Evans.

Forintek hired a truck and delivered the wood to the school for free. Some of the wood was used for the gardens project and the rest was recycled to build practice walls for electrical practice and other woodworking uses.

Carrie Huang, a Grade 12 drafting student at Tupper came up with the idea for garden boxes, which are comprised of four-foot lengths of wood and designed to fit together like Lego blocks. The wood pieces are then pinned together to form boxes 8 feet by 4 feet by 2 feet deep. She presented Evans with the drawing and his students helped build a small scale working model. Once the design was finalized Evans and his students spent 1,000 man hours cutting and prepping the wood for the project.

Evans tailored the woodworking sessions to give his "men in blue," as he calls his students, the opportunity to teach the younger students what they've learned about safely using tools such as electric drills, drill press, hand drills and hammers. Thirty elementary students participated in the hands-on workshops over three days to learn basic woodworking techniques including hammering, use of the drill press and planer, and measuring. One senior student was paired with two elementary students to do the work, and the pieces were later assembled by the elementary students at their schools.

For some of the young students it was their first time using tools. Corinne Watson attended several of the sessions with her daughter who is in a 5/6 class at Brock.  "Russ [Evans] and his students were really patient and by the third class the younger students were more self-assured in using the tools. We are doing renovations on our house now and our daughter has offered her help so she can use her new skills."

Gordon said: "This was an amazing mentoring opportunity. The Grade 12 tech students were patient, instructive, encouraging and supportive of the younger students.  Over the course of three visits, a real rapport was built between them."

The experience also gave the younger students experience at their future secondary school.  Since the shop could only accommodate 15 students at a time, Evans arranged for Tupper leadership students to play volleyball in the gymnasium.

"My daughter said at first going to Tupper was strange, like walking through the hallways in a movie, but now she feels welcomed because of all the friendly students," Watson said.

The woodworking project was one part of the greater school gardens project. Gordon visits grades 2 to 5 classes at Brock and Queen Elizabeth on a weekly basis to teach about cold-weather crops, composting, pollination, garden design, food miles (the benefits of local vs. imported), starting indoor seedlings, soils, beneficial bugs, organic gardening techniques, mulching, and seed-saving. 

"Catriona [Gordon] leads interactive, hands-on and science-based lessons in my class," said Susan Barton, who teaches grades 3 and 4 at Brock.  

To prepare the young students for the building of the garden Gordon discussed what a garden looks like and had the students come up with their own designs.

Planter boxes at the schools have now been filled with soil and planted by students and cool weather crops are sprouting. The Tupper students will be invited up to Brock to sample veggies from the garden during the Harvest Festivals scheduled in mid June.

Gordon explains that the student's work will be taken care of over the summer. "This year, most of the elementary schools have daycares on site, which have committed to taking over summer maintenance of gardens."

Tupper Tech students assemble garden boxes

Tupper tech students assemble a garden planter.


About SPEC and the VSB gardening projects

SPEC is BC's oldest environmental organization and is involved in teaching school children about where food comes from, how to grow one's own food, and urban agriculture issues in the Lower Mainland.

SPEC's School Garden Project is in its second year. The pilot year was funded through a generous donation from the Vancouver Foundation and gardens were started at Bayview Elementary and Kitsilano High School. Salad produce from the Bayview garden was served at the annual Bayview year-end family picnic last year and hopefully this year too.

Gordon notes that these gardens are still going strong, and are now entering phase two.  Kitsilano's Grade 9 French Immersion ecology students have recently planted fruit trees and berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries) to add to their existing vegetable garden.

School Gardens are a collaborative project, and last year Jericho Kids Club Daycare at Bayview took over summer maintenance at Bayview's garden, which is situated across the street from the school, in the Point Grey Community Church yard.  The church also collaborated, lending the space and helping maintain the gardens over the summer. Produce from the garden was used for healthy snacks at the daycare, including. fresh peas, carrots, zucchini was make into zucchini bread. Kitsilano Community Centre youth groups took over Kits High School garden during the summer months.


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