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April 15 was a chilly morning to hold an outdoor activity, but Ms. Yuly’s fourth grade class at Skyline Elementary School didn’t mind. The class stepped into the school’s enclosed garden, on a hill overlooking the recess playground, and immediately began asking how they could help that day. 

Esther and Tamar from Skyline’s Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) directed students towards their stations for the session. Some students cut strings for pea trellises – vertical support structures where vines can grow. Others worked directly in the garden’s eight soil beds, weeding or planting or watering. And a third group, guided by Esther, learned how to make the perfect soil mixture with unorthodox ingredients like coconut fiber, which keeps the soil moist. 

The PTO started Skyline’s garden in the 2019-20 school year, and Esther and Tamar have been guiding students on how to plant and properly care for garden crops since March. The kids love the opportunity to get their hands dirty and make life grow, Esther said. 

Students from select Skyline classes periodically come to the garden during school to plant seed-to-table crops like peas, lettuces, spinach, and kale. By late May or early June, students will harvest these vegetables and make salads at school with their new crops, after their parents or guardians sign a food tasting permission slip. 

“We hope to have some kind of salad recipe the kids can help assemble and taste the fruits of their labors,” Esther said. 

The garden also functions as a hands-on method of learning about the science concepts Skyline students read about in class. For example, younger students are learning about pollination, and third graders are learning about germination and how seeds grow, Esther said. 

Due to a limited number of volunteers, only a handful of Skyline classrooms get to grow crops in the school garden this year, according to Esther. But next year, the PTO hopes to partner with Bellingham non-profit Common Threads Farm to provide a curriculum and staff teachers, so every student can participate. 

The fourth graders who are working on the garden this spring said they loved the experience. 

“I like messing with the dirt, and I like planting things and letting them grow,” said Evelyn, 10. 

“I like spending time with others and making plants, so they can live,” said Ben, 9. 

“I like to see plants grow a little every day,” said Brooklyn, 10.