Assignment: Education – Onalaska School Garden

Onalaska students are given the opportunity to garden off-season

Experiments are a fun way to learn.

“Will they grow if they don’t have sunlight?” asked third-grade Irving Pertzsch Elementary teacher Stacy Bossingham.

These Onalaska elementary school third-graders are hypothesizing about the best way to get seeds to sprout.

Bossingham knows these types of science experiments will help with student learning.

“They’re just more engaged,” said Bossingham.

This engagement makes some students more willing to dig even deeper into learning by taking part in the school’s outdoor garden, which provides produce for the hot lunch salad bar.

“So the challenge, when I designed the school garden program, was to grow vegetables that we could actually eat during the school year,” said District Garden Coordinator Jodie Visker, “because I think it’s really important that the kids eat what they grow.”

So, the school district’s garden coordinator had to come up with creative growing techniques to allow students to garden during the school year.

“There are six cold frames at all three schools,” said Visker.

A cold frame is kind of like a portable greenhouse, allowing third-graders studying plant science as part of their curriculum to get the seedlings into the ground early. These seedlings were started by first-graders in February.

“I go into the school, and we talk about the parts of the plant and all of the different things that are in their science lesson,” said Visker. “And then we actually start some seeds in seed-starting kits.”

Middle school students are using a different gardening technique to provide produce for the lunch line. They are growing lettuce right in their cafeteria using a hydroponic tower garden.

“I’m finding, about, from seed to harvest it’s about six weeks … five to six weeks,” said Visker. “So, it’s a very quick process.”

So, beginning in November, sixth-graders begin growing and supplying lettuce for the salad bar.

“I think it feels really cool to be able to know that I helped grow that lettuce, and, hey, I worked hard at this, and now I get to see the final product,” said sixth-Grader Brianna Law.

It’s that satisfaction among students of all grades that is growing more than veggies.

“I really think it’s important that kids know where their food comes from, and that kids are encouraged to eat their vegetables,” said Visker. “I think there are concerns about obesity and diabetes and even how our food is being grown in the last few decades.”

This is the sixth growing season for students in the Onalaska School District.

The garden coordinator created three books connecting the learning happening in the school garden with the learning happening in the classroom. The books are available to be checked out from the schools’ library media center.