The idea to grow a school garden at Shaker Heights High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio, was first sprouted in Stacey Steggert’s special education class. Inspired by a book about a diverse cast of characters cultivating a community garden, her students were the first advocates of turning school grounds into an edible landscape. They began with potted plants in the classroom, which quickly turned into two raised beds in the school’s courtyard. As the first crops grew, so did students’ enthusiasm, and soon their small garden plot began to expand and capture the entire school’s attention. Now in its fourth year, the Audrey Stout Learning Garden is growing more than just plants; it’s nourishing academic engagement, inspiring creativity and sprouting young community leaders.
Covering all 6,400 square feet of the high school’s center courtyard, the Audrey Stout Learning Garden is designed with multidisciplinary education in mind. The space is divided into four geographically-inspired sections: Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas, each growing crops, herbs and flowers that can be found on these continents. In the Europe section, the German class grows cabbage and learns to make sauerkraut. On the Americas side, there’s a salsa garden with tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos for Spanish classes to explore cultural flavors. The African garden includes a patch of Arundo Donax, better known as African Reed Cane, that students harvest and transform into handmade paper. Plum trees, shiitake mushrooms and Chinese red noodle beans grow in the Asia garden. And to top it off, nine espaliered apple and pear trees grow in the garden, adding to the uniqueness of this beautiful and lush courtyard.
Throughout the space, the creative handiwork of art students can be seen in handcrafted tile benches and innovative wire sculptures. A Shakespeare class made connections to the garden by planting an “Ophelia garden” with rosemary, columbine, and daisies after reading Shakespeare's Hamlet. Math classes use the garden to practice calculating area and put algebraic equations into real-life application. The SEEDS (Service, Environmental Education, Diversity, Sustainability) student club turns garden produce into canned goods that have won multiple ribbons at the country fair. And all students get to benefit from the garden’s fresh, healthy harvests, which occasionally are featured in school meals.
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