The 5th graders at A.T. Allen Elementary School have a school tradition of working on a legacy project. Some past projects include a recycled bottle cap mural for the cafeteria titled, “Garden Fresh is Best” and a ceramic tile mural titled, “Tree of Learning.” Last year, the “Connect” team of teachers (art, music, PE, library and GROW Lab) were working on an inquiry unit during the pandemic using the school-wide theme, “game changers.” The legacy project took root when Janet Childress, the GROW Lab instructor chose the topic of bees and introduced the importance of asking good questions and researching them.
The project grew wings when the art teacher, Gina Meyers, got involved by envisioning an interactive sculpture. The classes built a honeycomb-inspired sculpture to place outside the school, with each niche (or cell) holding a model of one of 15 different bee species. Using a QR code, students or guests admiring the sculpture can link to a Google Slides presentation created by the students to learn about the importance of bees in our everyday life, including their necessity for fruit and vegetable production.
The librarian, Sandy Ku, helped students do research and prepare for their presentations. This kind of collaboration along with the extensive day to day teaching in the school garden is only possible by having a full time garden educator. Janet’s teaching position at ATA has evolved over the past 7 years. She spent 3 years as a STEM instructor, during which time she began a garden club that met after school. The success and growth of the garden club was recognized by the administrators and led to the formation of her current role, the GROW Lab teacher, the only of its kind in Cabarrus County Schools…so far (these photos were taken during a “show and tell” meeting with members of the CCS Board of Education to demonstrate the value of a dedicated school garden educator).
Janet teaches all the students in the school on a rotational basis. This sort of impact on a whole student body can only occur by having a dedicated school garden (GROW Lab) instructor. While this sort of arrangement is currently uncommon in NC, there are numerous places across the country that have dedicated resources to full or part-time garden educators in schools. With an ongoing demonstration of success in schools like A.T. Allen, we hope that this area of education will grow and flourish.