The secret to a strong garden program is dedicated individuals working in tandem with the support of their community. Funding a full time school garden coordinator position is no easy task, and the duties of what could easily be a forty hour per week job end up distributed among school staff, student families, and committed members of the community. At Raleigh Hills, the load is gracefully carried by Leslie Taylor, whose two sons attended Raleigh Hills, and by Carol Howell, a former Raleigh Hills teacher who had the pleasure of teaching Leslie’s sons. Their passion for this school and its garden is the driving force behind each maintenance task and every lesson.
The core of their philosophy is “Build it and they will come.” Having been a teacher, Carol recognizes the workload teachers have on their plates. She and Leslie work to lower the barriers to participation, stocking the garden with curriculum and materials so that teachers can take advantage of the space with or without advanced planning. Whether the garden ladies are supporting a teacher out in the garden, or leading the lesson themselves, there has not been one experience they consider to have fallen short of “magical.”
Should you be lucky enough to visit the garden at Raleigh Hills, you will be greeted from all sides by student poetry. Weather grams—small slips of biodegradable paper on which students can record observations or verse—hang from the trees, and poetry posts feature longer student pieces, protecting them from the elements. Geography posts announce locations around the world that are of particular significance to Raleigh Hills students, reminding any visitor of the distance some people have traveled in order to find themselves here, in this particular place, at this particular time.
Oregon Grape blooming,
Logs to sit,
The Garden is open.”
Gardens are a well of inspiration, and are an evidence based method for increasing student engagement, improving academic outcomes, and supporting healthy dietary choices. Going forward, the Raleigh Hills Garden Ladies hope to find even more ways to “demystify” garden education for teachers. Parent and teacher involvement will only become more necessary as this garden program grows, and as its project leads encounter challenges such as upcoming construction. Gardens change, schools change, but what remains constant is the effect that garden education has on students. As Leslie and Carol told me, these spaces are “good intellectually, good for the souls.”
By Kassia Rudd Washington County Programs Coordinator