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The Noe Valley Voice • November 2013 25

SCHOOL BEAT Noe Schools Grow Green Thumbs By Heather World


oe Valley schools have undergone a green revolution in the past five years, using grants, bond money, and donations to rip up blacktop and dig in gardens to give students some dirt-based education. The sizes range from 3,700 square feet to four six-foot metal planters, but the effect is the same: teachers use these learning gardens to give science, nutrition, and conservation another dimension. Students use them before and after school or during recess, growing imaginary worlds to play in or quiet corners for reading. Three Noe Valley schools are among the 22 that contract with Education Outside (EO), a nonprofit hoping to advance science in San Francisco public schools by getting kids outdoors. For a subsidized fee, EO provides instructors called “corps members.� Corps member Mary Catherine Muniz started working with students at Glen Park Elementary at the beginning of this school year. Muniz will see all the classes once a week for the whole year. She’s been planting salads with kindergarten students and building mock habitats with first-graders to understand ecosystems. “Kids are coming at recess to work on the houses, saying ‘How are we going to protect fairies from their predators?’� she said. Bond Money Builds Beds The garden itself was newly built this summer. The money came from Proposition A, a school bond passed in 2003 and 2006 to modernize schools. Thanks in part to EO lobbying, $7.3 million of the Prop. A money was set aside for greening yards at 53 public schools across the city. Fairmount Elementary’s vegetable garden expanded significantly in the summer of 2012 thanks to Prop A money. What had started as a parent-built vegetable plot became a full-blown outdoor classroom: concrete was replaced with trees, raised beds, a tool shed, and slabs of attractive stone for seating. The school’s EO coordinator teaches pre-kindergarteners through fifthgraders, including special education classes there. Fairmount parent and greening committee member Carey Craddock says the gardens are great for hands-on reinforce-

ment of what the children are learning inside school, but they are more, too. She notices the afterschool children playing among the plants, creating forts and pathways, and making potions. “They make up so many games with the materials that are just there,� she said. At Alvarado Elementary, those materials include a pond and a teepee. The school’s two gardens took shape about five years ago. Two parents convinced their employers to foot the bill and provide sweat equity. That money and manpower, combined with Prop. A funds, parent and student volunteers, and PTA donations, created an outdoor classroom featuring a 1,300-gallon rainwater storage cistern and a terraced garden running the width of the lower yard’s north side. The school’s EO corps member Brooke McClelland meets with all classes once a week for 10 to 14 weeks, teaching everything from seed harvesting to the water cycle. She’s also there at recess, opening the gardens to children who want to play or read there. Parents Plant Seeds of Success Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy on 19th Street also made use of parents’ work connections. Parent David Lloyd asked his landscape architecture firm to draw plans for an outdoor classroom pro bono. Not long after, the schoolyard flooded. “The district’s plan was to regrade it and pave it over, and that’s when we got involved,� Lloyd said. His firm, AECOM, presented a green alternative, which the school district approved instead. Now a rain garden captures runoff from a high retaining wall, filters the water through a bio-retention system, and deposits it into the sewer. A large donated cistern captures rainwater from the school’s bungalow, and that water is used for the school’s vegetable, pollinator, and native gardens during the dry season. Some teachers take their classes outside and use the picnic table, chalkboard, and garden benches to deliver science lessons. The YMCA has started a garden club on site, and students hang out in the area doing non-garden activities like reading. The school has not had to raise thousands of dollars to go green, Lloyd said. Parents fanned out into the community to get grants and donations. A long

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list of thanks goes to HandsOn Bay Area, Flowercraft, and dozens of parents and community members. City Another Source of Funds Harvey Milk Academy received an Urban Watershed Stewardship grant from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission for the rainwater harvesting system, and parents are applying for a grant to get an Education Outside corps member to teach the children, Lloyd said. Grant money from SFPUC will also benefit Mission Education Center, thanks to garden coordinator Markos Major. Major is also the executive director of Climate Action Now, a nonprofit that won a $100,000 Urban Watershed Stewardship grant and will use the money at schools it works with around the city. At Mission Education Center, that means 1,500 square feet of concrete along Noe Street will become a pollinator garden. It will also capture stormwater, and both these functions along with composting will be used to teach standards-based curriculum, Major said. “It’s a great outdoor classroom.�

Zael Johnson and Finn Ellis scrub potatoes grown in a garden at Alvarado School. Photo courtesy Susan Doering

Major invites neighbors to join the school at a garden work party Saturday, Nov. 16, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., to plant the sidewalk garden along 30th Street and the hillside on the school’s campus along Noe Street. MEC is located at 1670 Noe St. Butterflies and Ferns Even small grants can have a big impact. Thomas Edison Charter Academy won a $2,800 Community Challenge Grant to build a potted learning garden. Last month, about 50 volunteers, including kindergarten students, created an outdoor classroom with touch, scent, native/butterfly, and prehistoric (think ferns and palms) gardens in each of four sixfoot-long stock tanks, and four kinds of trees. “This garden was planted to welcome our incoming kindergarten families and allow one of their first experiences as TECA Panthers to be an act of giving,� said parent Patricia DeFonte, who applied for the grant when she noticed how much TECA students enjoyed trees they had planted along Dolores Street in conjunction with Friends of the Urban Forest. In addition to discounted plants and pots, the school got free soil from Recology and loaned gardening supplies from the Department of Public Works, which is available to any school, DeFonte noted. Parents at James Lick Middle School have won nearly $10,000 in grants from sources like Lowe’s Educational Foundation and Friends of Noe Valley to create a garden with planters and tables with seating on the southeast side of the building, facing Clipper Street. Flowercraft at 550 Bayshore Blvd. will give away free plants Friday, Nov. 22, to any school that brings a letterhead from its nonprofit parent organization. For details, call 415-824-1900.

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Noe Valley Voice November 2013