By Dawn Aerts
Iron County Today
CEDAR CITY–More than 300 students, teachers, local officials, Smokey the Bear, and representatives from the Southern Utah University, Utah State Extension and staff from the Dixie National Forest gathered together as a team of gardeners and stakeholders who cut the red-ribbon on Cedar North Elementary School’s new “Friendship Garden” on May 20.
According to principal Ray Whittier, the Garden Team will play a key role in establishing and planning a garden that supports student – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math (STEAM) concept of understanding that reach across academic curriculum.
“The mission of the garden is to improve education, health and the well-being of students, families and the larger community,” said Whittier of the project.
But it’s also about cultivating student curiosity and exploration that encourages every child to have a role in his or her health.
“This will be a hands-on learning experience,” said Whittier of the project design to promote healthy lifestyles, with gardening that is shown to improve children’s behaviors and performance at school.
Growing an appreciation for the environment is a key for stakeholders and on the Garden Team. According to the partnership, there will be an outline of roles for North Elementary students, staff, as well as for USU Extension and the Dixie National Forest (currently composed of students).
Over the past year, a group representing the U.S. Forest Service, the Parents and Teachers Association, (PTA) in cooperation with the Garden Team met with the Iron County School Board for approval and subsequent grant-writing and donation efforts.
“With the new campus building completion (in 2017), the project received donated materials, construction for six garden beds, the installation of raised beds and an irrigation system,” Whittier said.
According to Whittier, the garden team has plans to prepare and plant pumpkins with a lesson and salad party in mid-May. In August, the Team will plant beets and there will be a featured Pumpkin Harvest lesson and sharing the harvest in the Fall. In November and December, students and team will harvest Sugar Beets and look at other crops to add over time.
Some of the future projects and lessons will focus on: indoor seek starting; growing labs, theme gardens, pollinator garden, a vegetable garden, native plant garden and providing and sharing food for improved diet and nutrition-based lessons.
“This Garden will provide ideas for students on taking leadership roles, to support students in sharing ideas and having their voices heard,” said Whittier of the grass-roots project. “If we are able to make a school healthier and greener by practicing sustainable garden techniques and restoring natural resources – these lessons will go a long way to creating a healthier environment.”
The vision for the “Friendship Garden” was made possible through a grant and support by Braun Construction, SUU, Dixie National Forest, USU Extension, Iron County and local stakeholder-partnerships.
Caption: The ribbon-cutting event for the new ‘Friendship Garden’ at Cedar North Elementary School is part of the STEAM-concept to introduce a teaching garden that crosses academic curriculum, gives students access to a healthy food source and provides connections between school and community. Shown from left are Principal Ray Whittier, Smokey the Bear, Ember Turnbaugh and Korver Imlay.