Mount Saint Charles Academy Introduces Its Very First Outdoor Classroom
Aug 25, 2015 11:27AM ● Published by Pamela Johnson
Working in the school garden
On Aug. 5, Mrs. Ferry and her students donated over 22 pounds of summer squash, 2.5 pounds of green beans, 4 pounds of radishes, and some lettuce and scallions!
"We had talked about putting a garden over there for quite a few years,” Janice Ferry, a Science teacher at the Academy and the Earth Crew moderator said. “Actually, probably about five years ago, I took my AP Environmental class out there. We measured it out and started designing a garden, but the logistics of it were a bit overwhelming. There are many things to consider - the labor, the equipment, the material, the time, and the money to fund it. At that point we were beginning to prepare for the AP Environmental Science exam so we weren't able to continue. Mr. Richer [president of Mount Saint Charles Academy] and I spoke about the possibility of putting a garden there on a number of occasions. It wasn't until two years ago when a proposal for funding was submitted by the Office of Institutional Advancement to Mount’s Parent Council that we were actually able to start because we now had the money to do it.”
Spencer Darveau ’14, Marissa Lahousse ’14, and Sarah Gardella ’14, former leaders of Earth Crew, helped Mrs. Ferry plan and design the garden. There were no outside gardeners or engineers involved. “I wanted it to be their garden, the students' garden, and so we used their ideas,” Mrs. Ferry recalled. “It didn't really end up exactly as it was originally planned, but it was close. When we designed the garden we decided to do the raised beds. Last year, with the leadership of Peter Soucy ’15 and Erin Mastaj ’15, we worked on actually constructing it.”
Construction of the garden began in the fall of 2014, once the lumber, composted cow manure, and soil were acquired. Several students worked through December and finished filling the beds this spring. “We started growing the plants in my classroom in the spring,” Mrs. Ferry said, “and we planted them in the garden in June. It has come very far. This time last year there was a fence and that was it. It was a lot of work; site preparation had to be done because of the underlying rock. Once that was done, crushed stone was brought in. The kids and I spread the stone and then we started building. We had a lot of help and guidance from Mr. Dave Lizotte [from Mount’s maintenance department] in this process.”
In the spring, Mrs. Ferry applied to participate in the Catherine Desourdy School Garden Mentor Program, offered by the University of Rhode Island Master Gardener program. As a part of this program, the garden soil was tested for its nutrient content and recommendations were given to achieve the appropriate nutrient concentrations. In addition, Master Gardener Mary McNulty has been visiting the garden to offer guidance, planting help, and gardening resources.
Throughout this summer, maintenance of the garden has been done by Mrs. Ferry and student volunteers (even though the garden is an Earth Crew initiative, all Mount students are invited to participate). They’ve come to Mount three times a week to water and weed as well as collect rocks to create the borders for the flower beds that will line the inside of the garden fence. The variety of food the students have grown is quite impressive and includes tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, lima beans, peas, cucumbers, cabbage, lettuce, radishes, parsnips, cantaloupe, watermelon, corn, carrots, onions, acorn squash, summer squash, and butternut squash. The ultimate goal is to donate the harvest from the garden to local soup kitchens.
“The garden is going to give the kids a connection to the earth,” Mrs. Ferry said. “A lot of them don't really give a second thought as to where their food comes from. At least here they can see it from start to finish - from planting the seeds in my classroom to transplanting them into the garden and then tending to them and harvesting them. They see the plants actually grow and change from week to week and that it's really cool, especially so if they helped with the planting. When I have seniors out there working and they see a little squash growing from a seed they planted and they're all excited about it, that's a lot of fun. I really enjoy that.”
Mount’s garden will also serve as an outdoor classroom and will be integrated into the junior high and high school curriculums at the teacher’s discretion. “Not only are the students learning about the work that goes into raising the food,” Mrs. Ferry said, “but they are also learning about organic gardening because there are no chemical pesticides and no chemical fertilizers out there. That's a topic for my AP class because we learn about pesticides. The great thing is that the garden is interdisciplinary and can be taught across a wide variety of subjects - Biology, Environmental Science, Math, Art, and English at the very least. Most certainly, raising food that will be given to others in need hits home with the students. Recently, a young student was helping me to weed and he shared with me that he really didn't enjoy working outside but the fact that the harvest would be donated made his work worthwhile. There are just so many ways the students will benefit.”