Lindbergh Schweitzer's garden blooms thanks to teamwork

Posted: Thursday, March 30th 2017


girl watering plants, cauliflower growing in garden

Story courtesy of Food Corp's "Garden Spotlight"

Imagine that you are strolling through an elementary school campus on a sunny spring day in San Diego. You turn a corner and happen upon a bountiful garden full of raised garden beds. After pausing to marvel at the kale, arugula, radishes, chamomile, flowers, cucumbers, sunflowers, lettuce, chard, and corn, you continue on through the campus.

You pass a building and find a second school garden, complete with vermicomposting and raised garden beds growing kohlrabi, peas, turnips, peppers, tomatoes, squash, strawberries, and more. You walk deeper into the heart of the school and find yet another garden area.

As you push on towards the back of campus, you find yourself in a fruit tree garden surrounded by trees that grow apples, pomegranates, loquats, and avocados. You round a bend and discover delicious cauliflower growing out of even more raised garden beds, bordered by a greenhouse, an aquaponics unit, and rotating compost bins. And finally, you stumble upon a butterfly garden filled with milkweed to attract monarchs.

This is what students and teachers at Lindbergh Schweitzer Elementary experience every day. The school garden spreads across the large campus, making the most of the grassy areas and sections of dirt that weave in between buildings. If you journey from one point to another within the school, you are bound to come across a piece of its botanical treasure.

So what does it take to cultivate and sustain such a thriving and expansive school garden? At Lindbergh Schweitzer Elementary, the answer is teamwork. Led by teachers Jana Birch, Ellen Riffenburgh, and Gaylynn Rosborough, the school garden’s team of dedicated teachers, community volunteers, school staff, parents, and students proves that collaboration really can work wonders.

Teachers throughout the school support the garden. Their involvement varies – some teachers take their students out to the garden to learn in an outdoor classroom setting, evidenced by the garden beds that are marked with the room number of the class that utilizes that bed.

Other teachers bring the garden inside the classroom by hosting “Salad Parties”. The salads contain a beautiful array of lettuces fresh from the garden, topped with tasty dressings that students and teachers bring from home.

Preschool Speech Therapist Holly Foster teams up with fifth grade students to engage in garden activities. First grade teacher Robert Patton is growing lettuce, chard, kale, and tomatoes with his students. And fifth grade teacher Kelly Young is gearing up to get her students involved in the school’s Tower Garden hydroponics. She is also working to write a garden-enhanced science curriculum for the school.

Community volunteers engage in the school garden on weekend garden work days. Members from Coast Vineyard Church, which rents auditorium space at the school on the weekends, generously and enthusiastically volunteer their time to assist in the garden. The school also has a partnership with the Marines, who volunteer to support various school projects, including the school garden. Furthermore, the school Garden Committee is eagerly looking to involve the mosque across the street.

The school custodian is also on board. He ordered a yard waste dumpster for the school garden, and is currently working to procure recycling buckets on wheels for the school. He communicates with district landscape technicians, who efficiently act on requests such as trimming hedges near the school garden.

Cafeteria staff and fourth grade teacher Summer Catarius work with fourth and fifth grade students who lead “Waste Patrol” during lunch in order to collect salad bar scraps for compost.

The Garden Committee, made up of teachers and peer educators, ventures to integrate the garden into the school’s academic culture, and is currently working to develop a garden curriculum for each grade level. Their ultimate goal is to get kids involved in the garden, and so a student Garden Club is also on the horizon.

Jana, Gaylynn, and Ellen host garden workdays on the weekends about once per month at the school. They cleverly designate these days as “Garden Parties” or “Shovel Parties” and are quick to welcome anyone and everyone who wishes to lend a hand. The vast team of garden volunteers at the school can be attributed to these three inspiring teachers’ ability to warmly draw their peers into the magical world of school gardens.

All three of these impressive women are special education teachers at Lindbergh Schweitzer. Due to the nature of their students’ needs, they get to incorporate more hands-on learning time throughout each day, and have found that gardening is a valuable mechanism for experiential learning that their students really enjoy.

They ensure that the garden is accessible to all students, utilizing raised garden beds for their students in wheelchairs, for example. The school garden has become an inviting learning space for students in need of movement breaks or a calming environment. The more garden beds the school has, the more students who can be involved. 

Their students love digging in the dirt, watering plants, soil-testing, learning via direct observation, using soaker hoses, learning new vocabulary words, and planting vegetables. They learn how to be gentle with plants, how to water plants, and how to identify different plants.

Jana takes her garden lessons a step further by cooking harvests with her students. Recent favorites include soup with fresh bok choy, and sautéed kohlrabi with cauliflower. The school’s recently revived school garden enables her students to learn about science, gardening, social studies, and cooking by getting their hands in the dirt and experiencing the food system firsthand.

The Lindbergh Schweitzer school garden has a rich history. It began more than thirty years ago. Over the years devoted school staff such as Patti Read, a former teacher and enthusiastic garden coordinator, and Eliazar Sandoval, a bus monitor and beloved volunteer, cultivated the garden into an integral part of the school. However, in recent years, the garden suffered due to droughts, limits on watering, and the retirement of the school’s wonderful garden coordinator Read. Now, with Jana, Gaylynn, and Ellen leading the charge, Lindbergh Schweitzer’s school garden is full of moist soil, blooming flowers, and vibrant fruits and vegetables ready for harvest.

The school garden’s comeback story is a truly amazing testament to the wonders that a diverse team of collaborative volunteers can achieve. The abundance of enthusiastic garden volunteers forecasts a promising future for the Lindbergh Schweitzer garden, because if one person steps back or moves on, there are plenty of others who can pick up the slack and continue to grow the school garden program.

If you know of any blooming school gardens or dedicated school garden coordinators that deserve to be featured in our Garden Spotlight, let us know!  Email foodcorps@sandi.net with your recommendations.

Share this: