New civic/business/education alliance backs sustainable effort in Dunwoody cluster schools

Dunwoody Patch
by Tom Oder, “Gardening With Tom”

GA – Student leaders of Grow Dunwoody are creating a broad-based city-wide alliance of schools, businesses and community organizations as part of an $85,000 organic gardening and sustainability program designed to enhance the quality of education at the Dunwoody cluster schools.

The program was unveiled to a light turnout of parents, teachers, administrators, elected officials and fellow students at an informational meeting about the program at Dunwoody High School last week.

Grow Dunwoody co-director Danny Kanso said the partners in the alliance include Georgia Perimeter College, the Dunwoody Nature Center, the National Wildlife Federation, the Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper, the Georgia EPA, the Dunwoody Community Garden and parents of students in Dunwoody schools.

Grow Dunwoody also is seeking additional support from organizations such as the Dunwoody Rotary Club.

Principals at all eight schools in the Dunwoody cluster have agreed to participate in the program, according to Kanso and Ellen Augustine, a Dunwoody High chemistry teacher and a teacher sponsor of Grow Dunwoody.

The centerpiece of the program will be the installation and maintenance of organic vegetable gardens at each of the eight cluster schools, according to Kanso. The gardens will be used initially for the hands-on teaching of science, wellness and special education, Kanso said.

The students envision that the program will eventually impact all areas of education and will be extended to pre-K. Georgia Perimeter College already sees implications for math courses, Kanso pointed out.

Dunwoody High School is beginning work on its gardens this month, according to Kanso. A vegetable garden and pond will be installed in one of the school’s courtyards and native plants will be sited in another courtyard.

Georgia Perimeter College students will begin mentoring Dunwoody High’s freshman biology classes this semester. All science, health and special needs classes will fully participate in the program by next semester.

Kanso said the Grow Dunwoody team is budgeting $85,000 in installation and maintenance expenses for the program during the next four years. For installation, he said the team projects that the one-time costs will be $5,000 at each of the cluster’s six elementary schools, $7,000 at Peachtree Charter Middle School and $9,000 at Dunwoody High School.

Grow Dunwoody is budgeting annual maintenance costs at $1,000 for the elementary schools, $1,200 at Chesnut Charter and $1,400 at Dunwoody High.

The student and partner volunteers will make each garden fully organic. For example, they will use cedar rather than treated wood to build the garden beds, said Kanso. Extra funds have been built into the budget for items that contribute to organic gardening, such as bee hives for pollination, he pointed out.

The Grow Dunwoody team is also continuously evaluating the program and budget to look for ways to hold down costs while still maintaining the organic integrity of the program and keeping their vision intact.

To pay for the program, Grow Dunwoody is seeking grants and asking for donations from Dunwoody businesses, business organizations, environmental and community organizations and parents. Grow Dunwoody will also hold fundraisers, Kanso said.

Grow Dunwoody will not seek to pass any of the costs of the program to parents.

Kanso and fellow Grow Dunwoody student leaders Robert Galerstein, also a co-director, Kathleen Allen, manager of Operations, and Mary Wildner, Community Relations administrator, took turns in explaining various elements of the program to the audience at last week’s meeting.

The main goals of the program are to:

  • Build organic garden beds at each of the eight schools in the Dunwoody cluster.
  • Rely on students and teachers at each cluster school, with the help of Georgia Perimeter College, to manage the gardens at their school.
  • Use the gardens as a daily teaching resource at each school.
  • Donate more than 20 percent of the vegetables and herbs produced in the gardens to local food pantries.
  • Provide daily assistance from Georgia Perimeter College students to secondary school classes participating in the program.
  • Call on other partners to participate in specially targeted lessons.
  • Seek to instill sustainable practices in each school to reduce output of waste.

At schools such as Vanderlyn and Chesnut Charter that already have garden beds, the goal will be to bring them up to completely organic standards if the schools are not already at those standards, Kanso said. Grow Dunwoody also wants to try to have equal footage for organic garden beds at all of the elementary schools, according to Kanso.

Vanderlyn parent-volunteer and Community Garden School Garden Team member Tina Wilkinson said she would like to see the hill beside the current garden terraced so the students could put in a Three Sisters Garden of corn, beans and squash. That would tie directly with fourth grade curriculum — Native American study – she pointed out.

She said she would also like to have special events, such as Eat Your Carrots Day.

Vanderlyn students will be planting fall crops this week in newly amended beds that were shifted slightly this weekend to catch more hours of sunlight. Carrots are among the vegetables they will be planting.

The students harvested summer crops last week. The enthusiasm of the 22 students in Elise Jolley’s fifth grade class as they picked peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and a variety of herbs gave validation to the efforts of the Grow Dunwoody vision of the positive impact organic gardening can have on curriculum and students.

That vision extends beyond the organic school gardens to other flora and fauna learning vehicles, such as native plantings and the adoption of Wildcat Creek at the Dunwoody Nature Center.

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