June 04, 2014 - Independence Elementary's Learning Garden started small but grew into something great.
From left, Chelsea O'Brien, Garden Club director, leads a student presentation, including Hailey Hibberd, Delaney O'Brien, and Julia Hunt.
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"It's a phenomenal garden club," said Director Chelsea O'Brien, organizer of the IE Garden Club, along with Camila Duarte and Jessica Sorensen. "We have big plans for next year."
The project is a student-led garden providing outdoor learning opportunities for all students at the school. They created raised beds, planted flowers, vegetables, and other plants, which were all donated, and learned about gardening, healthy eating, and the importance of fresh and local food.
Now, the courtyard garden is filled with flowers and native plants, chosen to attract pollinators and help endangered species such as the Monarch Butterfly.
Students, parents and teachers brought their own tools to construct paths throughout the garden, the raised beds, benches, and a gated fence to keep out deer and rabbits.
"By engaging students to learn about the natural world around us, they will learn the importance of local native plant species and the ecosystems that rely on us to restore and protect that habitat," O'Brien said.
The club of about 80 students invited family and friends to a Garden Party at the school, May 29, to show off what they did and learned.
"It's a fantastic project," said Principal Chris Turner. "For so many years, it was just a grassy area. Chelsea had a vision for it, and with incredible parent support, the students made it a beautiful spot."
Haley Campbell, second grade, enjoyed planting tulips with the club.
"I like their beautiful colors, pink and stuff," Campbell said. "I learned that caterpillars like milkweed. That's where butterflies come from. And I learned about where they go."
Rose Norman, first grader, enjoyed growing lilies.
"They can come in all different colors," Norman said.
Third grader Luke Berney learned about teamwork while working with the club.
"You can't do all of it by yourself, a group can do more," Berney said.
Plans for the garden include quiet spaces for reading and artwork, and habitat creation for science classes to observe plants, pollinators, and wildlife. Physical education classes can also use the garden to teach healthy eating and how to grow fresh food. The outdoor classroom is also a good spot for students with autism and ADHD, as well as gifted and talented students.
Fifth graders also worked on a service learning project to compost cafeteria scraps. They used the finished compost to enrich the soil of the garden beds. They were also awarded a March 2014 Clarkston Foundation Classroom Grant to support their efforts, O'Brien said.
Phil is editor for The Clarkston News. He is a veteran of the first Iraq war, having served in the U.S. Army.