While the students are away, school gardens wait for their day in the sun.
| 8:00 a.m. August 3, 2017
With summer comes silence at many Sarasota schools. There are no squeaks of small shoes on tile floors or echoes of collective recitations from classrooms.
Yet, despite the quiet, work continues. Administrators prepare for the coming school year, summer school classrooms still hum with the sounds of learning and school gardens prepare for another harvest.
There are 66 elementary, middle and high schools in Sarasota County that use school gardens to supplement curricula.
“The kids love it,” Wilkinson Elementary School Principal Susan Nations said of the school’s garden. “(It’s) a really unique experience, especially for our students who may not understand the farm-to-table concept. So it’s really good for them to see something grow from a seed and bloom, and then be able to use it for nourishment.”
Nations estimates the garden has been an integral part of the school’s elective offerings for five years. About two dozen children work in the Wilkinson garden under the watchful eye of the school’s master gardener.
“I think they see it as an extension of the classroom,” she said.
"I think they see it as an extension of the classroom." - Wilkinson Elementary School Principal Susan Nations
It’s a whirlwind of activity from August to June. Teachers elect to participate, and about two dozen students work after school tending the crops. But come summer, students put their garden to bed.
“The beds are covered to prevent weed infestation,” said Susan Spriggs, community and school gardens coordinator for the Florida Extension Service.
Yet, even outside the supervision of the army of elementary gardeners, the soil is hard at work. Beneath its many tarps, the beds bake under the summer sun as nitrogen is restored to the soil.
“The nutrients are not being taken up during that time. They are not being wasted on weeds that are growing,” Spriggs said.
But not all Sarasota’s school gardens are silent. Although it’s in recovery mode, Hershorin Schiff Community Day School’s garden is cultivating learning.
“The garden never stops growing,” said Head of School Dan Ceaser.
Summer campers under the eye of agriculture teacher Andrew Noune trim flower beds and tend to some of their summer crops, like sunflowers and beans. Ceaser said the garden facilitates “student voice and choice.”
It’s a place where, even in the summer, students get to exercise their own choices. But for some summer campers, their sense of responsibility is heightened.
“We need to make sure that we keep the weeds out until all the other students come back, so we have all students on deck,” Caroline Ceaser said.
It’s her third year participating in the garden program. She said it gives her a sense of responsibility to watch something grow from nothing, fostered by her work.
“It makes you happy that people can see the work that summer camp did,” Caroline Ceaser said. “It looks so amazing.”
Even for schools whose beds spend the summer in recess, the gardens are still a cause for excitement. Southside Elementary School Principal Steven Dragon said it won’t be long until the tarps are torn off, the soil turned over and seedlings planted.
“It’s just amazing how quickly they grow,” he said. “For some kids this is magical. These are the memories they take away, not necessarily the test that we took.”