School garden on St. Paul’s East Side teaches science, calms students
The schoolyard garden at Bruce Vento Elementary in St. Paul continues to grow, with Extension and other parts of the University of Minnesota working together. In 2018, seven Extension Master Gardener volunteers from Ramsey County funded and assisted students and staff with an overhaul of eight raised garden beds they had built in 2015, making them more accessible for all types of gardeners.
Kirsten Saylor, the school’s liaison with Master Gardeners, appreciates their desire to help. “The program’s generosity means that we now have a garden designed for safety and care of people and property,” she says.
The continuation of a spring planting curriculum called Seed to Harvest Salad got students excited to learn, with the promise of a harvest to enjoy before the end of the school year. Third-graders work with Master Gardeners and staff to learn what is involved in the science of plant life, such as water, light and heat, nutrients and soil, and air.
The relationship began in 2014 when Extension’s Children, Youth, and Family Consortium (CYFC), received an Extension grant. It began as informal conversations with the school principal, who wanted to create a trauma-sensitive school environment. Those conversations have led to the creation of a network of partners and supporters across the University of Minnesota and the East St. Paul community.
Early accomplishments included food deliveries from Second Harvest Heartland, along with Extension SNAP-Ed and EFNEP nutrition lessons for students, and cooking classes for parents. A calming room was developed by the College of Design. Many students are survivors of poverty, war and refugee life, and the room is a place for them to go when they need a refresh but not a punishment.
Like the calming room, the garden is also used as a therapeutic calming space for children with emotional and behavioral challenges. The benefits of community gardens are well documented. They enhance mental health, improve academic skills in science, and provide access to healthy food and physical activity.
Saylor says that one reason the program continues to be successful is word of mouth from students and others involved in it from the previous years. “This year, families met at the garden regularly over the summer to stay connected and enjoy the garden’s harvest,” she says