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integrated and inclusive vision of gardens at Holmes Junior High School

A school campus as an extension of the classroom: Spotlight on an integrated and inclusive vision of gardens at Holmes Junior High School

By Lorie Hammond, Educational Advisor, Davis Farm to School (DF2S)

Celebrating día de los muertos (Day of the Dead) as part of Social Studies

at Holmes Junior High School (HJHS). (Photo compliments of Anna Pegg,

Social Studies teacher, Holmes)

This article is the third in a series which spotlights one school garden per month. These gardens are in all Davis public and private schools, where they are supported in part by Davis Farm to School (DF2S), a project of the Davis Farmers’ Market Alliance (501c3). DF2S is led by district-wide garden coordinator Nate Tauzer, a sixth generation farmer. Thank you to HJHS teachers Keri Hawkins, Sarah Hohmann, Kate Giorgi, Lisa Mowry, and Anna Pegg for their input on this article.

A visit to a Biology and Sustainable Agriculture Class:

“I look at our campus and feel it should be an extension of the classroom. I want kids to be doing stuff. The campus should be totally integrated into the learning experience.” This statement was made by Kate Giorgi, teacher of Biology and Sustainable Agriculture, a ninth grade class which is part of Holmes’ Career and Technical Education (CTE) program which extends from ninth grade through high school. Ms Giorgi’s own background includes ten years at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) before teaching at Holmes. “In my perfect world,” she goes on to say, “kids would be growing the food they eat for lunch and learning to prepare it.” Ms. Giorgi knows this is a big dream, but realistically, she hopes that kids can grow food to sell as Community Sponsored Agriculture (CSA) boxes to their families and friends. That dream does not seem far-fetched. Planter boxes systematically growing winter vegetable sprouts line her paths and patios, and a dozen or so hens, recently raised by her students, occupy an attractive chicken coop nearby. “The students spent all last week in the garden,” Ms. Giorgi states. Their work is evident.

Yet this week, science is at the forefront. Students work in groups to create posters of the water cycle which incorporate not only major concepts, such as evaporation, but also what they have learned first hand about how water passes through plants. Ms Giorgi introduces the project to her class: “Sometimes school is about giving information and spitting it back. But that’s not how the world works. You have to figure stuff out. Your future boss won’t give you all the information. Look up various water cycle diagrams and if they don’t involve the plants, look for a better one. Make sure you include groundwater, and think about how water gets into the ground to become ‘groundwater.’ Cite your references, and answer the questions on the board.” Ms. Giorgi’s whiteboard is full of real-world questions such as “Who is entitled to water?” “What about in a drought?” “Do we have the right to as much water as we used last year even in a drought?”

Above: One group’s water cycle drawing, in progress. Each group’s work is different.

It is clear that Ms. Giorgi’s class is both an inquiry science class and an agriculture class. Students are learning how the world works, and how people work within it. The combination of outdoor garden work and science inquiry is powerful. Real world conflicts over water are discussed and argued in her class, just as they are in the world. Ms. Giorgi suggests that we cannot insulate students from world crises. Rather, we can teach them problem solving skills which build their confidence. “We need to help our students learn to negotiate an unsafe world,” she states.

Social studies in the garden: Food pathways, geography, and historical connections.

“In connection with geography curricula which occur throughout Social Studies, students reflect on their own heritage foods and those of others in a food pathways unit. They grow some of their own foods in the heritage foods garden, and grow those of others in a food pathways unit,” states Lisa Mowry, Social Studies Department Chair. Three tall cotton plants stand outside a classroom door. Students have grown them from seeds in an effort to connect the plant to both the 7th grade World History and 8th grade US History curricula. Students learn about the process of seed saving, germination, maturity, harvesting and processing cotton, and about the role that cotton has played through many times and cultures. Many are surprised to learn that this crop originated in South America, Africa, and South and West Asia before being grown in the USA.

Issues of equality are central to the class. In the fall, every seventh and eighth grade student was allowed to plant a bulb. One person, one vote. They were told that in the spring, when they harvest their flowers, they will be studying the Civil War and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments that came from it. Their bulbs are “linking them to Lincoln.” “Anything we can do to get kids to connect to the curriculum in a more meaningful way is a win for us. The gardens do this,” says Ms. Mowry. But Ms. Mowry credits her teaching partner, Anna Pegg, for the proliferation of gardens which surround the social studies building and extend further and further over the Holmes campus. Ms. Pegg’s students start winter vegetables in a greenhouse and simultaneously from seed in garden beds, to see which way they grow best. She gets donations from nurseries and businesses, like Tandem, which has just given picnic tables so kids can study outside in the gardens. “It takes so much pressure off the classroom when they spread outside,” says Ms. Pegg, who shares Ms. Giorgi’s dream of the outdoors as an extension of the classroom.

Islands of plants and sculptures wind throughout the Holmes campus. These evolved from the study of ancient history. Ms. Pegg and Ms. Mowry began by having students study the paths they normally take between their classrooms. They learned that no one walks on sidewalks and goes in perpendicular lines. Everyone cuts across. Ms. Pegg suggests that this is how paths began: with animals taking the shortest route. Then people began to build roads. Holmes students re-create human path building by studying how they themselves move, then creating island gardens between their paths. “I like to look at the garden as social development- showing the process of history, “ says Ms. Pegg.

Found objects are used as barriers around plantings. When trees are cut down, students gather the branches to serve as borders. Decorated abandoned bicycles and old shoes create sculptures in the gardens. In the herb tea garden, art students in Ms Hohmann’s ceramics classes have made tea pots to accompany the herbs, and each student makes a cup to drink their tea. Connections are made everywhere, and student suggestions are welcomed. The gardens are organic, emergent rather than planned.

Everywhere at Holmes Junior High, subjects are integrated with life. Ms. Pegg explains: “People forget how hard it is for 12-13 year olds to sit in classrooms with few breaks. They love to go outside. After Covid they couldn’t sit. They hadn’t done it in years. We wanted to make it nicer outside, to lessen the pressure. Even the math teacher created a Zen garden with her students so that they could do their math outside. Students initiate projects meaningful to them, such as the Day of the Dead Altar pictured at the top of this article. Students are now trying to connect the garden to the astronomy curriculum, by making a space-themed garden. They found a flower called Starry Silphium to grow there, and will make a solar system model. It is all about making the gardens fit what is being taught. Kids just want to do real stuff.”

Creating an inclusive garden community for all:

Much of the inspiration for the Holmes gardens originally came from Keri Hawkins, who has a Masters Degree in Architecture and works as a Special Education Paraeducator at Holmes. Keri has designed and created an infrastructure of garden beds and picnic tables which are not only efficient, but are accessible to all kinds of students, including those in wheelchairs. She has also been a leader in working with secondary students at Holmes and Davis High school to create better waste management including recycling and compost, through the RISE Project.

The Holmes gardens ramble through the campus, indicating indoor and outdoor, academic and applied aspects of students’ lives. While Biology and Social Studies classes integrate gardens into curricula in deep ways, teachers and students in all subjects are involved. I was charmed by the piled up teapots which serve as sculptures for the herbal tea garden by the art room, the nascent “outer space” garden by science, and the Zen garden which enables math students to work outside.

The after-school Garden Club: What gardens mean to the kids.

The after-school Garden Club at HJHS plays a critical role in supplementing classroom work at planting, pruning, and maintaining gardens, even during the summer months. Some students have even planted and maintained their own individual gardens.

These gardens mean a lot to students. One student claimed this was the only activity that got her out of the house. The Garden Club also gives students special opportunities beyond the normal curriculum, such as visiting Patricia Carperter’s native plant garden and preparing meals from the garden, sometimes in a solar oven. Some HJHS students now at Davis High School (DHS) return to participate in Garden Club activities, which are led by Ms. Pegg. These comments came from students who are now at DHS:

“I enjoy how physically engaging (the garden) is. It allows my mind to stay active as I can socialize with friends.” (a tenth grader)

“I like helping the community and shaping the school. Like being able to paint the benches. It gives (the school) personality. I also agree with my friend’s points. Talking to friends is always fun.” (a tenth grader)

Holmes students also comment on the Garden Club:

“What I love about Garden Club is helping Holmes look better with all the plants and it is just overall fun to care for the plants and help the community.” (an eighth grader)

“ I like to help Holmes look better for years to come even when I am not there anymore. I think Garden Club makes Holmes the best it can be, and I like to be a part of it when I can.” (an eighth grader)

“I like gardening and gardening with others makes gardening more fun.” (an eighth grader)

Paraeducator Keri Hawkins notes that, in addition to being fun and satisfying, garden activities are important because they level the playing field. Students less successful in the classroom are often equally or more successful in the garden. Students develop a greater connection to peers by working together to beautify their campus. By creating and maintaining gardens collaboratively, students play an active role in building a stronger campus community.

A bit of historical perspective on school gardens:

When the “garden in every school” program was initiated by Davis’ Delaine Eastin, California State Superimtendent of Public Instruction (1995-2003), many schools installed a vegetable garden in a corner of the school yard. This garden was an important start. It enabled many children to experience their first home-grown tomato and to learn how a carrot grows from seed to table.

But delineating the school garden from the “normal” school landscaping at Holmes Junior High is not possible. Due to the diligence and inspiration of its team of teachers, some of whom have gone without mention, the entire campus has become a maze of gardens and walking paths. These gardens help students to understand how their lives are linked to their past, through human crops and pathways which started long, long ago, as well as to their future, through agriculture, an essential California industry today.

Lorie Hammond, Ph D, is a Professor Emeritus from the College of Education at CSU Sacramento, where she taught science, art and bilingual education and developed urban school gardens with communities of immigrants. She is founder and former director of Peregrine School, a garden based, experiential learning school in Davis, California, and has authored the book, Growing Whole Children in the Garden, about seasonal garden education. Lorie is now advising the Davis Farm to School Program, a project of the Davis Farmers’ Market Alliance, as part of their outreach and education programs.


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