Garfield Elementary School launches community garden

Volunteers and sixth-grade students plant vegetables at Garfield Elementary School's community garden launch event. (Nickole Byrn/DD)
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Garfield Elementary School kicked off its Edible Education Curriculum to combat toxic stress present in the school’s large low-income population with a garden groundbreaking Wednesday.

The school partnered with the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and the Kohl’s Cares Mindful Me project to bring the new initiative and garden to the school.

The goal of the garden is to help students navigate the struggles of trauma in their lives and the adverse effects this trauma can have. Toxic stress can be caused by a variety of factors including extreme poverty, abuse, exposure to violence, substance abuse or mental illness.

“We discovered a high need among our students when we went to a trauma sensitivity program,” said Lianne McGinley, behavior intervention specialist. “About 65% of our students have experienced some kind of trauma in their life. It does reflect in their performance and behavior in school.”

McGinely said after becoming aware of the issue and seeing the negative effects it can have, the school started developing support programs for students.

“The principal, last year’s vice principal and I decided to take on a restorative justice model approach,” McGinely said. “That was giving them more support and sensitivity to their experiences, but also an outlet of ways for them to improve themselves and our school.”

Through this the school received a grant to get the garden started and begin the Edible Education Curriculum. As a part of the curriculum every week the sixth-grade students will tend the garden along with yoga and behavioral interventions.

(Nickole Byrn/DD)

In order to not only help the students in the classroom, but also the families of the students, the school is aiming to have an open family night every week or once every two weeks, said McGinely.

“We found out that so many of our families don’t have any access to fresh fruits and vegetables. One because of the location and two for obvious financial reasons,” McGinely said. “We will allow them to come in, pick vegetables and do cooking classes then take home the ingredients so they can carry that into their homes.”

At the groundbreaking ceremony, volunteers from the Phoenix Children’s Hospital and several Kohl’s retail stores from around the Phoenix area came to help teach students about what they were planting and how to care for the plants.

Among the volunteers was Deb Kuczora, Vice President Assistant Manager of Kohl’s District 50 who said working with Garfield Elementary for this garden project fits the company’s goals of building strong communities.

“Our mission is to help families live fulfilled lives,” Kuczora said. “Our families are in these communities and these communities are our future.”

Kohl’s Cares volunteers in cities and towns across the country with the goal of improving local communities for families.

“We do a lot of volunteering, but when we can work directly with the kids it’s always even more rewarding,” said Kohl’s District Manager Brooke Allen.

Garfield Elementary School hopes to eventually have a garden about the size of half an acre. Construction is estimated to begin on this larger garden next year.

Contact the reporter at nbyrn@asu.edu.

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