Noozhawk’s note: Noozhawk and givezooks! are proud to participate in a project to replace Harding School’s hawk weathervane, which was stolen earlier this summer. Read on to learn how you can help.
Harding University Partnership School can boast more than an educational vegetable garden, a weekly farmer’s market and cafeteria meals made completely from scratch. With a record high 92.3 percent waste diversion, Harding is leading the way for green innovations.
“Harding has gone above and beyond to have as little waste as possible,” said Eric Lohela, an environmental specialist for the city of Santa Barbara Environmental Services Division. “It’s probably one of the highest performing schools in the (Santa Barbara School) District, possibly even the country.”
Nine schools in the Santa Barbara School District are part of the program so far. It is Lohela’s goal to get all of the elementary schools on board, then the middle and high schools. More than 100 businesses participate in the program as well.
With only about 8 percent of Harding School’s waste heading to landfills, the other 92 percent goes to composting or recycling centers. All of the cafeteria’s food, plates and utensils can be tossed into the yellow compost bins located throughout the campus at 1625 Robbins St. on Santa Barbara’s Westside.
Most of the kids walk with confidence to the correct bin — yellow for compost, black for trash, and blue for recyclables.
“Their level of awareness is amazing,” said Principal Sally Kingston. “Daily habits change behaviors and beliefs. One time a temporary custodian dumped all three bins together in front of the kids. A shocked fifth-grade girl came up to me and asked, ‘What are you going to do about that?’”
This environmentally friendly attitude spreads beyond the school yard.
“Kids definitely take it home,” said fourth-grade teacher Verity Allen. “Kids bring in fewer items that cannot be composted. It becomes ingrained in them, especially if they are here from kindergarten through sixth. We train them pretty well.”
The school’s chefs try to use as much organic produce as they can in the cafeteria meals. “We surveyed 200 students and found out that they are all trying new and different kinds of veggies,” Kingston said. With homemade pizzas on Fridays, everyone goes home healthy and happy.
A newly installed garden also gives students the opportunity to grow their own vegetables by seed. Tomatoes, corn, lettuce, radishes and basil fill the raised beds. Eventually, the chefs plan to use some of the produce in the cafeteria and send some home with the kids.
“We’re not going to feed all the kids with food from the garden, but it’s more about the learning process,” said parent and biologist Vince Semonsen, who was instrumental in installing the garden. “It’s important for kids to know where their food comes from and to get their hands dirty.
“Some kids had no clue what these plants were, even though they eat tomatoes and corn all the time,” he said. They are so curious and excited.”
Semonsen is also one of the “movers and shakers” on Harding’s Environmental Committee, which includes school board members, Kingston, teachers, parents, community members and Mayor Helene Schneider.
“We look at the school and try to find ways to make a better environment for the kids,” Semonsen said. With a master landscape plan in hand, they try to take on as many projects as they have the time and energy for.
Allen uses the garden to teach her fourth-grade class math, science and art skills. In one assignment, students had to measure the perimeter of the garden and subtract the shortest plant from the tallest plant. “It makes math more concrete and hands-on,” she said. “But it’s also really important to be connected with nature.”
To help students relate to that nature connection, local indie pop-rock group Spencer the Gardener came to Harding to play songs from Organic Gangster, his latest album with a kid-friendly twist. The “Worm Song” reinforced the important role of worms in the garden.
Even preschoolers can take advantage of the garden. Last year, they used the garden to learn about the life cycle through the transformation of caterpillars to butterflies.
“It’s great to integrate the environment into the curriculum,” Lohela said. “It shows kids how the world works.”
Click here to make a tax-deductible online donation to the Harding Hawk Project through givezooks!
Tomorrow: Harding University Partnership School ready for its grand reopening.