While some elementary school students learn about plants from a textbook, Top of the World students get to learn first-hand by earning a green thumb in its outdoor classroom.
Outdoor Classroom Coordinator Terry Hustwick, a former third- and fourth-grade teacher at the school, has made it her mission to keep the garden alive at the school, which has been there for 20 years. Hustwick retired in 2003 and then took on the role of garden coordinator. She has been with the school since it opened in 1967.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade classrooms get their own plots to garden whatever they like; however, their time outside is dependent on parent volunteers coordinating with the school teachers. The outdoor classroom is aptly named since it has bench areas available for kids to sit and do work as well.
Hustwick has also led the afternoon garden club for the past nine years, which happens once a week after school.
The kids grow everything from strawberries and blueberries to romaine lettuce and tomatoes. They also have a "smell and tell" herb garden.
Nine years ago the PTA donated $20,000, she said, which went toward automatic sprinklers and fencing. The city water district donated $2,000 for a water-wise and fire safe garden.
"It's evolved into a viable spot on campus and its due to PTA and parents," Hustwick said.
Not only do students learn how to weed, fertilize the soil and plant, they also learn about other natural phenomena — vermicomposting.
Using lunch scraps, Hustwick taught students how to feed the worms the food. She was surprised how the kids weren't "grossed out" and were actually interested in composting.
Hustwick also said its valuable time for the kids to learn in a relaxing, fun environment,
"Everything is so quick nowadays," she said. "Planting takes time. They learn patience and that plants take time to grow and how to nurture it along the way."
Third grade teacher Patti Rabun agrees and said the class is something her students look forward to.
"The children love it when they see things grow," she said.
Every year the season culminates when the kids get to pick different items from the garden — such as lettuce, snow peas and tomatoes — and make a salad.
Hustwick believes the fact that they get to grow their own produce makes it easier for them to be adventurous and try new vegetables and fruits, such as persimmons or spinach.
Parent volunteer Anne Hall was eager to bring kids to the garden, Rabun said. She introduced kale to the kids and incorporated it into a soup, which she served alongside the salad. It was a hit, Rabun said.
Rabun was also thankful for Hall because she was able to incorporate the curriculum when she took groups of students out.
"She was great because I could throw something at her like 'could you do some fractioning in the garden?' It was really nice to pull a little bit of the classroom out there and have the kids have that rich experience of growing their own garden," she said.
Students can sign up for the garden club in the fall by contacting the front office.
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