top of page

Spotlight on the many storied gardens at Davis High School

By Lorie Hammond, Special to the Enterprise


This column is the fifth of a series spotlighting one school garden in the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) each month. These gardens are supported in part by Davis Farm to School (DF2S), a project of the Davis Farmers’ Market Alliance (501c3), and are coordinated by Nate Tauzer, the DJUSD and DF2S Garden and Environmental Coordinator.

“When we are in the garden, there is no language barrier. You can just be silent. Silence is a gift.” These are the words of Yuliya Pankova, Special Education teacher and garden coordinator at Davis High School. Ms. Pankova has gardened all her life. She remembers weeding carrots, and learning to distinguish them from dill, in her mother’s garden in Kazakhstan at age four. As a person who spoke Russian and Kazakh before English, and who has worked with international students, as well as students who are language challenged, Ms. Pankova knows the power of silence. Gardens can be a leveler- a place where everyone can work together, regardless of language or academic level. Where students can do physical work, when so many hours are spent on computers. And where students can escape the stresses of a competitive high-school to pick strawberries or listen to the birds.


Ms. Pankova explains that Davis High School is committed to Universally Designed Learning (UDL), an approach which enables students to build on all their intelligences. These intelligences include language and math, but also kinesthetics, science, arts, and more, including naturalist intelligence, which has just been officially recognized as part of human development. Some English teachers at DHS bring their students to the garden to meditate during the first five minutes of class time, which enables them to concentrate better on their academics.


In addition to providing a refuge, every DHS garden is connected to the school’s history and provides students opportunities to create new legacies for the future. Ms. Pankova showed me the many gardens which line the walkways at DHS. These gardens are as diverse in their purposes as the students who attend this comprehensive high school. Ms Pankova reflects that the school’s major focus is on STEM, Robotics, and other academics, rather than on gardens. However, all students benefit from the greened environments which gardens provide, and a committed group of students

actualize their dreams through the Environmental Club.


Spotlight on Garden #1: The Inclusion Garden. This garden consists of a series of beds tall enough to accommodate students in wheelchairs. Here students grow vegetables and herbs, under the direction of Ms Pankova and of Manuel Cortez, a Special Education paraprofessional. Mr. Cortez taught horticulture at a university in El Salvador before immigrating to the United States. Through Mr. Cortez, students can learn to grow food from seed to table, and can even learn sophisticated pratices like grafting. Special Education students can spend time in this garden, but other students come to work here during “extended time” on Wednesdays, a free choice activity time.


Spotlight on Garden #2: The Rain Garden. In 2019, parent Kevin Perry, a landscape architecture professor at UC Davis, attended a presentation in his son’s classroom and noticed that a courtyard between buildings flooded when it rained. This observation resulted in a collaboration between him and Sherri Sandberg, a now retired chemistry teacher and former Environmental Club director at DHS. The project became a “rain garden”, designed and built by DHS Environmental Club members and UC Davis landscape architecture students. Students learned to slope the garden to catch rainfall, built benches to contain it, and identified plants adapted to rain. A wall plaque describes how this garden collects rainwater, enlightening passing students and parents about its environmentally conscious design.


Spotlight on Garden #3: The Memorial Planter. Another way in which gardens tell a story is as reminders of local history. With the help of Ms Sandberg and landscape architect Kerry Loux, students created a planter with red, white and yellow flowers (the colors of the Vietnamese flag) and a placard which honors a Vietnamese student, Thong Hy Huynh, who was tragically killed on campus in a 1983 hate crime. This garden keeps the history of this event alive for current students, forty years later, along with the Race and Social Justice classes which emerged in part as a community response to this tragedy.

Spotlight on Garden #4: the Brunell Theatre Garden. Ms. Sandberg led Environmental Club students in painting a large naturalistic mural on the wall as a backdrop to a drought tolerant habitat garden. This garden and mural line the walkway to the Brunell Theatre where it gets public viewing. Birds can be heard chirping in native bushes, providing a bucolic setting where English students can meditate before class. Current Environmental Club Director Pankova organizes students to maintain DHS gardens and even dreams of creating another, in the courtyard near the art room, where ceramics and plants might provide a peaceful refuge for students at breaks.


DHS school gardens provide a place-based, unique dimension to the educational program of the school, where students and teachers can express their own stories, while affirming shared values (environmentalism, tolerance, inclusion) and preserving the history of the school. Visionary teachers such as Sandberg and Pankova guide students in making signage and murals which tell these stories. The rich diversity of the school’s history and population is well illuratrated by the small, storied gardens nestled within this big comprehensive high-school campus.


Lorie Hammond, PhD, is a Professor Emerita 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, and has authored the book, Growing Whole Children in the Garden, about seasonal garden education. Lorie is now acting as education advisor for the DF2S program.



Featured Posts
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
Recent Posts
bottom of page