Four Lake View Elementary School students carefully walked across the log in the forest behind their school Thursday, tailed by Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
Barnes was at the school to recognize Wisconsin School Garden Day, the third time Gov. Tony Evers issued such a declaration. State Rep. Samba Baldeh, state Sen. Melissa Agard and various school garden advocates joined Barnes as they toured the school’s outdoor facilities and planted with the students.
“Our state is a leader in garden-based education and it’s because of projects, programs like this where everybody can learn to value the natural world around them,” Barnes said. “As we emphasize outdoor activities, this is a great way to do it.”
According to the Wisconsin School Garden Network, this is the only state with an official declaration recognizing such a day. The state has more than 800 documented school gardens, all of which director Nathan Larson said offer a diversity of experiences for students.
“Each one is unique,” Larson said. “You just see each garden is different and is really shaped by the students and educators and community partners that work together in the garden.”
Gardens provide a variety of benefits, teachers and advocates said Thursday, including giving students hands-on experiences and helping them understand how food is created.
“The power of growing your own food is incredible,” said Wisconsin School Garden Network outreach coordinator Erica Krug.
Lake View physical education teacher James Kersten noted that the school’s garden has a special box with a variety of garden tools and activities in it that serves as a great break for students needing a few minutes outside of the classroom. The forest out back serves a similar purpose, with students able to get out energy that makes it hard for them to focus on learning.
“It means everything when it comes to helping kids stay regulated,” Lake View behavioral education assistant Debbie Craig said. “It’s a time where they can just be a kid.”
In that time, she said, they can learn valuable lessons like teamwork, negotiation, communication and cooperation when moving heavier objects or deciding what they want to create. Third-grade teacher Drew Greenhalgh’s class voted to plant cucumbers in the garden — they just beat out peppers in a heated debate, she said — and using the garden allows her to connect lessons in various subjects, like measuring growth, to real experiences.
“Giving them that experience is pretty enriching for them,” she said, adding that they have a “sense of pride” in taking care of their plants.
“And it’s fun,” Krug said. “It’s so fun.”
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