Allegheny Mountain Institute is a proud partner of Staunton City Schools (SCS). The garden at Bessie Weller Elementary School has been maintained by an AMI Fellow since January 2020. This Garden Coordinator is responsible for planting, harvesting, and maintaining the courtyard garden, and working with teachers and administration to expand the curriculum connections and garden content. The meaningful partnership between AMI and SCS helps foster real change in our communities through growing food and building community, which shapes our youth into environmental stewards the world needs.
The Learning Courtyard Garden at Bessie Weller is a space for students to engage in garden-based experiential learning activities to support their education outside of the classroom. Through captivating, hands-on encounters in the garden, students are empowered with an understanding of how to grow food and make healthy life choices. Environment-based education emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach to learning experiences and gives students opportunities to engage in deeper understanding, investigation, and decision-making skills. The garden provides plenty of opportunities to explore Virginia's 5 C's in relation to becoming stewards of the Earth and responsible citizens in our communities: students practice critical thinking, collaboration, communication, creative thinking, and citizenship skills.
The school garden at Bessie grows annual vegetables, herbs, and perennial pollinator plants and is a certified Monarch Waystation! The 300 pounds of food grown during the 2020 season has been distributed to local food pantries throughout Staunton, gifted to teachers and staff, and used for taste tests with students. In upcoming years, food harvested will mainly be used by students and staff, and some may make their way into the cafeteria!
Students participate in garden programming as it corresponds to the curriculum for their grade level with lesson plans from the garden coordinator. The garden coordinator distributes seasonal activity kits to teachers to help them connect their planned content to what's happening in the garden. There are endless curriculum connections and extensions between the Virginia Department of Education Standards of Learning and the ecosystem growing outside on school grounds! Each grade level has identified specific supporting units to help deepen the current curriculum:
Kindergarten: Seeds, Plants, Five Senses
Grade 1: Life Cycle of a Plant
Grade 2: Pollinator Life Cycle, Habitats, and Monarch Migration
Grade 3: Soil and Decomposition and Water Cycle
Grade 4: Three Sisters Planting and Watershed Health
Grade 5: Compost and Recycling