Building Flower Beds … and Community

When the students at IPS’ Eleanor Skillen School #34 look out the window, they see more than just traffic whizzing by.

They see apple trees.
And raised vegetable beds.
And coming this fall, sunflowers.

It’s quite an improvement from the day when first grader Ariana Rebeles looked out her classroom window, and saw litter. She recruited a few friends at recess next day, and they all skipped the swing sets and picked up trash instead.

Elenor-Skillen.jpgThat was the start of the School #34 Garden Club. “There was a teacher, Miss Perry,” recalls Ariana, now a third grader. “When she saw us picking up litter, she got us some tools to make it easier.”

Teacher Deana Perry (currently serving as an assistant principal at a nearby IPS school) applied for a GreenKids grant to fund a school garden club. The grant helped pay for trash pickers, bags and gloves. 

Beyond that, the grant enabled Ms. Perry, as well as fellow teachers Shaun Crosbie and Ms. Surface, to enlist some professional design help to build an outdoor classroom complete with benches, apple trees and raised beds where students could plant seedlings and watch their development.  

Once the design was complete, the club invited parents and neighbors to multiple workdays, to construct the garden beds, plant trees, and spread mulch. “One Saturday, they worked so hard, they were so responsible, they didn’t even want to stop for lunch,” recalls teacher Renee Surface. “The kids are really proud of the space now.”

The GreenKids meet every other Thursday after school. In addition to picking up trash, they look for other ways to make their school environment more appealing. Plus, KIB GreenKids Manager Heather Maurer provides lessons about nature – everything from planting seeds to understanding the life cycle of frogs. “I like planting flowers the best,” says Ariana.

The garden club used a second KIB grant to branch out: planting more than a dozen fruit trees both in what was once a parking lot next to school and down the street. All that digging, planting and mulching has encouraged a spirit of camaraderie among school parents and folks in the neighborhood, who formed the Bean Creek Community Association to help with future workdays and tree plantings. 

“Not long ago,” recalls Ms. Surface, “A driver accidentally cut a corner too tight and nicked a newly planted tree. A parent who saw what happened called KIB and told them ‘It was an accident!’ The neighbors rushed over and repaired the damage. They have really embraced the project – and supported the students.” 

This spring, Ms. Surface and Mr. Crosbie plan to add a log/balance beam to the outdoor classroom, and fill one of the raised beds with sunflowers. The second raised bed is already spoken for: for the second year, it will contain cabbage. And when the heads are ready to pick, they will be donated to the school’s food pantry. 

That brings the garden club full circle: a student saw a problem and took responsibility to solve it.  Now that solution – the GreenKids Garden Club – is helping others in the community.