Student Garden Comes Full Circle

Fall is officially here and with that came the final vegetable harvest of the student garden located at Matthew Paterson Elementary – an idea that seeded, grew and bloomed this spring and summer.

Students and teacher outside in the garden

Eileen Magnotta, physical therapist who works at the three elementary schools in the District, initiated the garden project idea when she was trying to plan alternative learning experiences for students who would be attending summer school. In previous years, students enjoyed field trips, guest art lessons, therapy dogs and more, but this year the activities needed to stay on-campus and without the use of outside guests. Many of the students that Magnotta and her colleagues work with are in self-contained classes or the District’s PACE (Personal, Academic & Community Experience) program. 

In a conversation with Jacqueline Barry, one of the speech therapists, the garden idea came to life and the collaboration blossomed.  

“We knew that the students who are in the self-contained classes and PACE program receive services support in the summer so they would be here in the summer to see the fruits of their project,” said Magnotta. Since summer school was taking place at Matthew Paterson Elementary School this year, Magnotta brought the idea to Principal Mike Kirk and the project blossomed from there. 

Using donated supplies from teachers, administrators and the MPES PTO, students in self-contained classes at Matthew Paterson Elementary and Kent Elementary, along with students in the PACE program at George Fischer Middle School, began growing seeds indoors in early spring awaiting an outdoor garden to be built. 

Word of the project spread and Rob Leonard, the technology department chair and teacher at Carmel High School, generously offered his time to build a garden structure using leftover materials he had. 

“I didn’t even know Rob before this. It was just through an email collaboration that he volunteered to build the garden for us,” said Magnotta. “Rob doesn’t even know these students, but he was willing to give his time and that was just beautiful.” 

“There were so many people that collaborated on this project. It was so heartwarming and fun, and the kids really enjoyed it.” 

Why a garden? 

Student with a squash picked from garden

The garden project provided a perfect environment to aide different student services. For the speech therapists, the garden sparked conversations with students about plants, flowers and vegetables. They even discussed the life cycle of a plant. For the physical therapists, the garden chores focused on motor skills, strength and conditioning, and even practice walking on uneven terrain.  

“Some of our students in the upper grade levels of the PACE program physically do chores. It’s a life skill and it helps build strength and endurance,” said Magnotta.  

“What I found amazing is that one student who uses augmentative communication was able to find the words ‘plant,’ ‘flower’ and ‘grow’ on her device and show that she was understanding the concept.” 

From planting the seeds to picking the ripened vegetables, the project received two green thumbs up from the students. 

"It was so fun," said student Mikayla, who got to be the one to pick the very last squash for the season. She was excited to participate in the garden project and knew quite a bit about gardening already because she tends to plants at home with her mom. 

"The plants got so big," added student Keyli. 

Since summer school locations in the District change each year, Magnotta would love to see the garden continue and possibly expand next year, especially if there are other teachers who are interested in getting involved with their classes.  

While the vegetable bounty from the garden has ended, the campus is enjoying a few final weeks of fall flowers planted in the garden until the vegetable growing process begins again in the spring.