McKinney Elementary (Hillsboro, Oregon) is making use of a Farm to School Grant from the Oregon Department of Education to incorporate agriculture across their curriculum. Partnering with Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom, committed community members such as Debi Lorence and many local environmental education organizations, McKinney has used the funding to re-establish their school garden and to hire a school garden coordinator. Six months into her position, McKinney’s coordinator (Megan Kupko) has this advice for fellow school garden educators: “Take things slow, observe and interact with the land, students, teachers, and parents and allow relationships to develop. But don’t be afraid to get outside and try new things!”
Megan’s solution to the complexity of managing a garden and developing curriculum is deceptively simple. This year, each grade was responsible for planting and caring for 1-3 crops. Using these crops as the focus point, lessons covered grade relevant math, science, writing, nutrition, and social emotional content. Additionally, these lessons provided students with the knowledge and skills necessary to garden in their home communities. Next year, students will take on 1-3 stewardship tasks that will provide even more foundation for engaging content-based lessons.
The students and teachers at McKinney relished every opportunity to get outside, and were struck by the positive influence that hands on learning and community service had on student engagement and school culture. No student will forget the experience of harvesting the vegetables that they grew, or the joy that came from sharing their bounty with those close to them. If Megan could tell other garden educators one thing, it would be to foster close and personal relationships between students and their plants. These relationships are key in improving student attitudes and behaviors when it comes to eating healthy food!
Eventually, the garden will be the realm of the regular school day teachers. Megan’s role is to create a garden program that combines garden maintenance with standards based lessons. Over the course of next year, Megan will transition to a support role as the teachers take charge of the outdoor classroom.
Megan’s garden program isn’t the only agriculture exposure that students are getting as a result of this grant. Fourteen 3rd-6th graders participated in McKinney’s first after school garden club (4-H). Participants take charge of watering and weeding all the beds, in addition to planting and caring for a square foot salad garden. Content emphasized nutrition and food literacy. Service is a key element in this program and students gave back to their community by harvesting arugula for the school’s food pantry, helping first graders paint garden rocks, and creating informative labels for the garden beds. Crystal Lubcke, McKinney’s 4-H co-instructor (and community parent!), was an essential and powerful organizing force behind this program.
The Oregon Department of Education also funded a Harvest of the Month program, spearheaded by Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom’s own Kassia Rudd.
This program connects students to local food systems professionals, teaching about nutrition and future career opportunities. The featured professional is the star of a 5 minute film where they give students a tour of their work space and introduce them to the harvest of the month. The professional then visits the school, participating in an interview and taste test in every classroom. April highlighted Purple broccoli and Aaron of Stoneboat Farms while Lauren Bodine and Red D’Anjou pears were the focus in May.
View the video below to see a site tour and to learn a little bit about one of McKinney’s food systems partners!
By Kassia Rudd Washington County Programs Coordinator