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New D.C. Gardening Program Takes Root

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When D.C. Council passed the Healthy Schools Act last year, it created a slew of new nutrition and exercise requirements for students. It also created a program designed to promote gardens at local schools. As part of that program, Sam Ullery became D.C.'s first official school garden specialist. He says kids need sunlight and space to grow every bit as much as plants.

"So really what we’re trying to do is provide support to schools that either have school gardens or help build a new garden," says Ullery. "If you have a group of students and teachers working on a space and they care for it and they love it and they have ownership over it, that’s going to translate outside to their homes, to the classroom." 

Plus, Ullery says, there are lots of lessons that can be gleaned from gardens:

  • In science, students can learn first-hand about photosynthesis. 
  • "In Spanish class, you can plant a monarch butterfly garden and you can watch for the monarchs to come and you can track them as they go down to Mexico," he says. 
  • In math, students can measure the distance between plants.
  • "In Social Studies you can build a three sisters garden which is a traditional Native American garden with corn, squash and beans," he adds. 

The challenge, Ullery says, is helping teachers who are used to being indoors integrate gardens into their curricula. He says they are hoping to secure some funding to provide professional development to teachers so they have the tools to integrate a garden into their own classroom lessons.

But at Francis-Stevens Education Campus in Northwest, D.C., one pre-schooler isn't having any trouble figuring out what to do with those vegetables she just planted: "Eat them!" she exclaims.

Now Ullery will just have to add patience to that long list of garden lessons.

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