Source: Jersey Hills/The Citizen
This past summer, the Thomas Jefferson Middle School decided to convert an empty, U-shaped school courtyard area into a little garden of various veggies, and harvest the goods to donate to a local church.
Principal David Waxman implemented the idea of a school-garden while discussing it prior to Covid-19. “We heard other schools were also doing this around the areas, so we decided to give it a go,” Waxman said. “It was a little by little process, and Joseph was a great help.”
Joseph Basile, a local paraprofessional and a gardener, shared a great deal of knowledge in organizing the garden beds and picking certain seeds to grow the vegetables with the students. ”He stepped up and volunteered his time and he’s making a real contribution to the school.”
This year, and for the first time, the school harvested and donated vegetables, including three full baskets of watermelon, cauliflowers, tomatoes, carrots, spaghetti squash and different types of flowers. Besides donations to the Hope’s Table Wharton United Community Church, they were also distributed amongst students and teachers.
“I have a lot of veggies of my own at home growing, so I thought we could grow stuff and get involved with the kids, especially students with disabilities,” Basile said. “We started the spring of last year and grew the veggies this summer till the fall of this September.
The students, mainly from the Special Educational class of teacher Toni Zangara, volunteered at the school-garden by choice. They would visit the garden at the end of the day or during study periods to help with planting maintenance. Some students in fifth and seventh grade and students from summer school also showed up to help.
“The kids definitely were excited to watch and get something they grew,” Basile said. “You can see the excitement in their eyes. They enjoyed getting outside in the sun, being in the mud and cutting off weeds. It was an incredible learning experience. With the sunflowers in the garden, we also discussed the importance of bees, worms and butterflies. The teachers were very enthusiastic as well,” Waxman said.
Waxman said, for example, that the art teacher wants to put up artwork by students to decorate the garden for next time, as well as teachers from health and gym classes want to take tours at the garden with their students to encourage the eating of vegetables and promote a healthy lifestyle.
“We have been thinking of adding wooden tables and chairs to the school-garden for next year,” Waxman said. “We have also been thinking of putting a tent to go into during the hot weather for students and teachers.”
Besides adding further improvements, Basile also wants to add a different variety of veggies for next year, including: peppers, eggplants, pumpkins and some herbs. He also wants to add plants instead of only seeds for next time, for students to enjoy the planting process even more.