YES Prep Public Schools
Jonathan Brown

At YES Prep North Forest Elementary (NFE), it’s common to find our kids engaged in various fun activities throughout the day. At any given moment, you may see a group of students playing a team game in the classroom or enjoying our state-of-the-art playground during lunch and recess. But no place is more popular right now than the school community garden!  

The community garden was started this past fall to introduce an exciting, experiential way for children to learn about health and nutrition. Led by Aisha Miller — an NFE teacher with previous community garden experience — along with Principal Johnie Flores, the idea quickly evolved into a full-fledged project that is now an essential part of the school’s learning curriculum.  

ORIGIN STORY

The inspiration for the garden runs deep, all starting with Principal Flores’ vision to introduce new ideas to not just her YES Prep students, but the surrounding community. 

Miller’s first experience in developing a community garden dates back to her days as a STEM Coach. “I actually started a learning garden, and it was more STEM-based. I wanted to bring the inside classroom outdoors, which led me to look into different garden programs.” 

Miller mentioned, “Flores vision of bringing a community garden to where she grew up was an awesome idea. What I thought was really unique about this community garden is the fact that our school is in what you call a ‘food desert’. “ 

LEARNING FROM THE CLASSROOM TO THE GARDEN

Believe it or not, the garden is currently nurtured by over 40 NFE pre-K students!

Miller started small with the students by having them plant vegetables like lima beans and pinto beans inside of the classroom. With the help of NFE’s Health and Wellness teacher, Coach Chadwick Scott, the elementary students were able to begin their green thumb journey using mason jars and plotting plants inside of tiny Ziplock bags. “We wanted to go from small ideas to big ideas,” said Miller, “to show them how plants grow and then connecting it to when you go to the grocery store, spot out fruits and vegetables and understand how it’s grown. I even brought some produce to the classroom to show them how the plants grow. Really just educating our students about healthy food and we’re continuing that journey.” 

Her students quickly graduated from classroom learning, and now Miller takes individual classrooms outside — usually during Friday Family Meetings — to do what is called a “garden walk” and talk about the garden and how it connects to any classroom learning they are doing that week. In a recent class, Miller taught a class lesson to her students on “How to take care of our bodies” and a lot of kids were able to connect the garden with taking care of themselves from the inside out. 

“One of the great things about the garden is that we’re able to talk a lot about the weather and how it affects our produce and gardening,” Miller said. “Students are able to see those changes and even make the connection that certain fruits and vegetables grow only during a certain part of the year and certain seasons.” 

So far, the NFE garden has produced lettuce, kale, pinto beans, lima beans, lentils, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, onions and carrots! 

THE STUDENTS’ EXPERIENCE 

The NFE staff has spent a lot of time thinking of ways to continue carrying the garden learning experience throughout other areas of their students’ lives. Miller mentioned her kids have experienced a variety of things, from taking home their first harvest to understanding the correlation between fitness and nutrition during P.E., thanks to Coach Scott. “We were able to do our first harvest before the winter break and some students were able to harvest in the garden and take vegetables home for the holidays.” Some of the vegetables they brought home were purple kale, lettuce and cauliflower. 

“Students are having a blast with our garden! When we started growing garlic, the kids were quick to say, I don’t like that and I had to remind them, you don’t know what you like until you have tried it. So one day, one of my students came in and asked, Do you remember the garlic thing? I had it in my spaghetti, and it was SO GOOD. Of course you don’t see garlic in its raw form in spaghetti, but the fact they were able to make the connection and realize it was something they had before and liked, was pretty cool.” 

Dominique Young, The Director of Operations at NFE, describes the pre-K students as being “deeply engaged.”  

“You normally see kids that young just wanting to get messy and dirty, but they really take care of the garden. They want to learn, engage and work, which I think is great and a testament to what Mrs. Miller is teaching in class every day.” 

NFE kids are trying a variety of things and expanding their understanding of health and nutrition in both a fun and positive light. 

LOOKING TOWARDS THE FUTURE 

NFE’s big picture goal, starting with pre-K, is ensuring they can correlate healthy eating to their daily lifestyle. While most traditional schools take P.E., the NFE teachers like to look at health and wellness from a holistic view. The coaches work with Miller in the garden and teach kids about food groups and the importance of nutrition along with physical activity. As Young stated, “it’s knowing what is correlated with good food and what’s correlated with bad food.” 

The goal is to consistently build out the program for all grades to get their hands in the garden and then have community days where others can also come and get food. It all ties into the grander vision Principal Flores has for the North Forest area. As the garden gets bigger in popularity, Miller sees the community coming to help grow fruits and vegetables and bring fresh produce back to their families on a regular basis.  

What once started off as a learning garden is becoming something much larger. And we are excited to see the growth of the NFE garden in the years to come!  

View the full gallery below.

The North Forest Elementary community garden is accepting donations! If you are interested in contributing supplies, donations or sponsorships please contact Dominique Young at dominique.young@yesprep.org for additional information.