Wednesday, March 21 , 2018, 12:04 pm | Light Rain Fog/Mist 56º


New Garden at McKinley Elementary School Marks No. 36 for Let’s Grow!

On a warmish Saturday morning in October, after a long workweek, teachers, parents, administration, kids, family and members of Let's Grow! convened at the new site of the McKinley Elementary School garden. Thanks to funding from the Santa Barbara Unified School District, McKinley PTA and McKinley school, the long-awaited school garden was installed over a five-hour period.

"It's not just food that is grown in the school gardens," said Trish Stone-Damen, Let's Grow! co-director. "Curiosity, respect, patience and community are all nurtured as well."

Lets' Grow! (formerly the School Gardens Program funded through the Orfalea Foundation), has installed or enhanced 35 other school gardens in nine school districts across the county.

"With funding challenges this year, we didn't think we would be adding any new schools," Stone-Damen said. "However, when a former McKinley teacher enthusiastically approached us and the school district agreed to fund the program, we couldn't say no. It had to go in!"

Let's Grow! works with the schools to bring garden educator managers to the school each week to facilitate science and food lessons in the garden. In all, Let's Grow! impacts over 8,000 students in the county each year.

Amber Neely, a first-grade teacher at McKinley, has been instrumental in the coordination of the new garden program and was fortunate to have her husband, a farm manager at Casa de Maria, alongside her helping on Saturday.

"My mother is a garden teacher in a first-grade class in Carpinteria, and I have always wanted to experience the same outdoor education with my first-graders," Neely said. "It's the perfect complement to our indoor curriculum and a fantastic way to teach science hands-on while addressing the new common core standards. I can't wait to get the students out there."

Principal Tia Blickley couldn't be happier for the garden's germination on campus. Blickey, a former Peace Corps volunteer, spends most of her "free time" tending to her own 4-acre property in the Santa Barbara foothills, which includes chickens, food and fruit trees, so when the idea of a school garden came to her attention, she embraced it wholeheartedly.

Thanks to a number of hardworking and dedicated McKinley parents, teachers and even a teacher's husband, more than 25 drought-tolerant native plants were installed as well as seven raised beds, a working sink with vegetable preparation table, a worm bin, an outdoor classroom and an automated irrigation system for the food beds.

Under the guidance of iCAN art coordinator Angela Lang, students of all ages participated in the garden beautification by painting garden signs and rocks to be displayed. Former McKinley students, now in high school, volunteered their time moving mulch, compost and tree stumps and earning community service credit at the same time.

If you haven't visited McKinley school lately (located on the Mesa across from SBCC), consider volunteering in the garden. For more information, contact garden educator Katrina at [email protected]. You will be pleasantly surprised when you come around the corner to the welcoming garden site with the million-dollar view.

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