After School Gardens

“Out-of-school time providers have the unique opportunity to create environments where healthy eating and physical activity are encouraged. It doesn’t matter if you’re a before school program, an afterschool program, a summer program, a scouting organization, or a sports team, you play a meaningful role in empowering youth to eat better and move more.” –National After School Association
Across the nation, after school programs are putting increased emphasis on physical activity and nutrition. At the same time, many programs aim to blend curriculum-centered academic enhancement with fun and excitement.  And foster positive social emotional learning. And help parents continue healthy  habits at home. All in the span of about two hours a day, or less.
Hello, school gardens. Here is healthy eating, cooperative learning, enjoyable exercise, curriculum connections, and parental engagement all wrapped into one. (Disclaimer: WSGI recognizes that there are many successful programs that focus on other topics – but, you know, we’re biased towards plants!) Some school gardens begin primarily as after-school projects, while others expand their reach over time. However they find their way beyond the borders of the school day, these programs provide students, and garden, with invaluable opportunities for growth.
In addition to providing a thematic focus for educators and an experiential learning environment for students, garden-based after school programs can play a major role in garden care-taking, filling in any “gaps” left during in-class activities. After school programs are often able to involve students in more extensive garden projects that can help keep the garden in top shape for school day programs that operate on even tighter time budgets.

After school students tend to make strong connections to the garden and often become what Thomas Jefferson Elementary named “garden ambassadors.” Their natural enthusiasm and pride spreads infectiously across the school community, and the knowledge they bring back to the classroom helps them take on leadership roles in garden-related topics, even among students who aren’t always first to raise their hand.
After school garden programs take many forms. Some are created specifically for the garden. Some are woven into the fabric of existing programs, either as a special unit, a daily or weekly activity, or a central hub that ties everything together. Some after school programs do not take place after school at all. Indeed, the phrase “Out of School Time” is beginning to replace “After School,” whose ever-expanding meaning may include time before school or during school day breaks such as recess.  Schools without after school transportation may orient garden clubs around these times.
Summer programs are also occasionally woven into the fabric of “after school,” and, when available, can be an excellent opportunity to engage students at the height of the growing season - and solve the ever-present conundrum of summer-vacation maintenance.
Whether your school is creating a garden to enhance its after school program, envisioning an after school club to enrich its garden-based learning opportunities, or a little of both, we at WSGI have no doubt it will be a good match. We’ve put together an extended Resources section in this newsletter that we hope will help you at any stage of the process!

Funding for this project was provided by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health from the Wisconsin Partnership Program.  

Many thanks to Grafton and Kewaskum Elementary Schools for the photos in this article!

Resources & Events

Sustainable Food Center’s After School Activity Guide.  Fill out a short survey to download this incredible resource for free. The guide has over 15 activities for garden-based after school programs. While designed for middle school students in central Texas, the activities are easily adaptable to other ages and locations. Also includes forms for program evaluation and budgeting.
Healthy Kids Hub:
A website launched by Healthy Kids Out of School from Tufts University.  This website has many resources for nutrition and cooking activities, including resources for parents, and documents in Spanish. Resources are searchable by topic, age range, or target audience.


Food and Fun After School: This 11-unit curriculum focuses on healthy eating and physical activity. It has recipes, activities, and suggestions for parent communications - including letters in Spanish. Not directly focused on gardening, but almost all of the lessons could be used (enhanced!) by taking place in a garden. (Listed on the Healthy Out of School Time resources page.)

The School Garden Wizard. This site has ideas and resources for planning, building, and maintaining a school garden.  Check out the “Learning in the Garden“ section, which has a helpful list of activity ideas – these are not full lesson plans, but excellent places to start, and easy to integrate into any program! From Chicago Botanical Gardens' School and Community Gardening Manager. 


Cultivating Childhood Wellness Through Gardening. We love this one so much, we put it on here again! Whether you're planning planting or programs, this is a great place to start. Not only is it Wisconsin-specific, it earns after-school providers 1.5 CEU's through The Registry. And because it's free, you can go back and revisit the information any time.
"Find Youth Info" After School Programs Webpage:
 This webpage, part of the federal government's Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs (IWGYP), has a collection of information on starting an afterschool program, finding funding, after school activities, and health and nutrition.

School Garden Success Stories

We'd love to hear from you!  Our newsletters will continue to profile stories of Wisconsin educators and their youth gardens. What have been your biggest challenges and successes? What makes your garden unique and worthwhile?  If you're not sure where to begin, you can follow our story guide.  If you've already written a blog post or article, you can share that, too.  Share here.
Thomas Jefferson Elementary: After School "Garden Ambassadors"
In the fall of 2013, Wausau crossing guards went home with freshly-made pickles, and local residents opened their doors to bags full of veggies – following a resounding “ding-dong!” and a scampering of feet.  The veggies came with a note: “Compliments of Thomas Jefferson Elementary Garden.”
The Ding-Dong-Ditch act was a Pay-it-Forward practice of the Thomas Jefferson Elementary (TJE) after school Garden Club – a way to say thank-you to a community that has supported the school in its efforts to bring Farm to School to life for students through its garden program. 
Thomas Jefferson’s garden began in the spring of 2013, and found wild success in its first growing season. Renee Heinrich, TJE’s science teacher, has been one of the garden’s champions since it’s inception, and has made every effort to utilize the school’s 13 raised beds in both her school-day and after school curriculum. 
TJE’s garden is located in a previously underutilized courtyard – it is quite literally in the center of the school.  Heinrich was determined to make the garden a central part of the curriculum as well. All of the school’s 385 students study science with Heinrich, and all visit the garden. However, the TJE garden does not stop when school buses show up on the curb at 3:00.  For six weeks every spring, and six weeks every fall, Heinrich leads hour-long after school sessions for 20 second and third graders and 20 fourth and fifth graders. These students have become the school’s Garden Club, and are proud of their role as “ambassadors to the garden.”
 Heinrich uses Farm to School lessons such as those featured in the “Got Dirt?” and “Got Veggies?” garden curriculum guides –or makes up her own– and always keeps things hands-on. “We treat after school as an extension of our school day, and we use Farm to School in that extension,” Heinrich said, “so it’s academic but it’s also fun.  They’re trying new things all the time because they know it’s a safe environment…it’s something they can’t fail at, and they are all of a sudden engaged and excited.  It gives them ownership and pride in their school and in themselves.”  
It’s no wonder Garden Club students feel a connection to the space. Not only do they have extended opportunities to plant, harvest, and cook with the produce –last year’s creations ranged from homemade pizza sauce to “finger” sandwiches with homemade herbal tea–they also use their new knowledge and experiences to educate others. Garden Club students help create the school’s “Wisconsin Wednesday” video announcements –which feature the school’s Harvest of the Month– and lead visiting adults around the garden during community nights.
Students wear their Garden Club t-shirts to school, and last year’s experiences are not soon forgotten. “Our kids who were in the program last fall have already come up to me, saying ‘Mrs. H, are we going to have Garden Club again?’ They remember that excitement,” Heinrich said, “and my goal is to get even more students involved this year.”
Heinrich and her students have not been alone in bringing the garden to life, or in celebrating its success. The project seems to be a sort of magnet, drawing in Farm-to-School grant funds, local businesses, parents, and other community members. 
Around the time that TJE was thinking of installing a garden, the Marathon County Health Department was awarded a Transform Wisconsin Grant to bolster Farm to School efforts in several local school districts, including TJE’s Wausau location. “Within one year, the grant helped the school to create a garden, integrate its use into both daily curriculum and after-school programs, and become a major part of Farm to School efforts,” Ashley Kienitz, the Public Health Educator brought on by the grant, said. Kienitz is currently focused on making sure the program is sustainable once the two-year grant cycle is complete.
The school’s efforts at involving the surrounding community, however, have built it a strong base of support as it looks to future years. At the school’s Community Nights, Garden Club students act as garden tour guides for visiting adults, and all generations participate in taste testing and other healthy eating activities. The school’s May “Plantapalooza” event will also involve Master Gardener Volunteers, who will assist participants in building small container gardens from up-cycled cafeteria cans. For a quarter, attendees can buy plants for their new tiny gardens from Wausau’s Majestic Farms greenhouse, which has been raising seedlings planted by students earlier in the spring.
One of the reasons that the TJE garden is such a magnet for positive community involvement is the energy generated by students who are encouraged to use new knowledge to make decisions and implement creative ideas. For example, after learning about rotation farming at the Plantapalooza, students will decide where to plant each type of vegetable. Several ipads – purchased via a Beyond Crans grant from the Wausau Community Foundation – allow students to research the health benefits of different vegetables and plan activities such as “Legume Lunges” for June’s Community Night, which will also feature a home-cooked supper for families.
Parent volunteers who previously had little to do with school activities feel welcomed by the garden, UW-Extension assisted with the donation of several grow lights, and teachers from other classrooms are beginning to get involved. From June through August, Wausau’s summer school students–who hail from a variety of district schools–will take care of garden.
“We use the garden for pretty much everything we can,” Heinrich said. Indeed - everything seems to blend together, with the garden as a Farm to School rallying point. And TJE's after school Garden Club is at the heart of it all.
As Thomas Jefferson looks to the future, it looks to its students. “We have a plan as to where we want to go in the garden, and that has changed based on the kids’ interest and creativity,” Heinrich said. “Their eyes just brighten up when they walk outside and see something popping out of the ground.”

Thomas Jefferson Science Blog

Click on the graphic above to visit Thomas Jefferson Elementary's Science School Yard blog and read more about their garden program!

Wisconsin School Gardens in Pictures

Help us share school garden stories through pictures! Send us photos here - please make sure you have permission to share photos publicly. Many thanks to Grafton Elementary for  the above photo!

WSGI will offer sixteen school garden trainings in 2014. Hosting a training is fun, and a great way to promote or build your garden program! Learn more about hosting a garden training.
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                                                                                                              For those new to WSGI, we couldn't leave out these amazing resources. "Got Dirt?" will walk you through starting a school garden, while "Got Veggies?" will help you implement a garden-based nutrition curriculum.  "Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening" is an online training that will help you establish and utilize a school garden.  You can watch the entire training or select specific chapters.

Find them all here.

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