CARE Grant Turning Wells Middle School Roadrunners' Thumbs Green

Michael Utsumi, Funding & Programs Coordinator
July 31, 2019

The Dublin Partners in Education CARE grant program continues to impact more schools across the district. At Wells Middle School, the site has efficiently managed to utilize the funds in many creative ways. Case in point is the launch and development of an outdoor garden at the H building.  Leading from the second-floor hallway, there is a dedicated space that has drainage and water access. The plan was always in place, but it needed a nudge to get the project moving. 

We spoke with Wells teacher Priscilla Barton who was charged with not only making this a functional space, but to also find a way to include the learning into curriculum. Ms. Barton teaches a wide variety of courses, so this program represented an opportunity to utilize many of her talents. DPIE recently visited the garden and we gathered Priscilla’s insights.

Teacher Priscilla Barton with WMS Students

Teacher Priscilla Barton with students on the Wells Middle School Roof Garden.

DPIE: You mentioned that one of the drivers for the garden project came from the Science department. Please share your initial vision on what you could deliver and some of the potential learning outcomes.

Priscilla Barton: “That space was considered more for the Science department and the chair talked to me about how they had long wanted to make an outdoor garden and that was the original purpose. But they didn't have anyone who was able to manage it. They initially brought me in because they knew the biggest hurdle would be to get the planters made. But I was also trying to take the elective courses I was teaching in a direction of current career pathways and problem solving for tomorrow's leaders. The children these days don't have as much connection to the life cycle of garbage, of products, etc. and yet they are hearing about the plastic garbage patch in the Pacific. It can be really daunting to hear that sad news but then at the local level to not know how you can have an impact on that. That is why I wanted to teach a course that would solve one local and very real problem which is recycling at the school and also give the students a window into the different things that being "green" can mean.

So, we address farm to table concepts, buying local, the process of composting and what is compostable, renewable energy sources, water conservation, material reuse and design for sustainability. There are so many facets that they can learn about. I talked early in the fall to the Principal about the idea and he loved it, wanting to utilize that space for something and wanting to have a garden up there. The Science department felt that by contributing to the costs, it could be a space where their students could possibly do some research or labs out there. We have done several labs, learning how to grow a plant from a cutting, comparing the composting speed between a worm composter and a tumbling composter.” 

Garden Plants on WMS Roof Garden

DPIE: Once the garden project was approved, did you have sufficient funds available? How did the DPIE grant help?

Barton: “For the funds, we received $1,000 from the DPIE grant, about the same amount from the Science department and then I did two donors choose projects to get the irrigation system, the compost tumbler, the rain barrels and things like that. We also had some item donations from Savers, Zone 7 and from Lucky Garden. Together, it provided enough funds for us to buy the rot free natural wood to build the planters the hardware, the sealant as well as the soil. We also did seed identification where we planted indoors and started the seedlings and then the students were quizzed on the seedlings and what plants they were. The students also created presentations on different plants and taught the class how to propagate them, their needs, their life cycle, etc.

We just recently did a Shark Tank exercise where students would come up with a business in the Eco space. It was quite fun for the kids and they really learned a lot about what it takes to get a company off the ground from an idea. I feel that the possibilities for this class are endless.It eventually turned out that the class will be a Project Lead the Way class called Green Architecture and a portion of the class would be the students using CAD to design a space using concepts of sustainable living. This semester, they built the garden in TinkerCAD and some students actually printed the garden before we designed it. They also laid out the irrigation plan for the garden in TinkerCAD as well.”

WMS Strawberries

DPIE: From which courses that you teach do the students get to participate in the garden – or is it from all of them?

Barton: “The main class that participated was my Industrial Tech class which is becoming Green Architecture but I did use students in woodshop class and art class to help me with all sorts of things such as nailing or drilling the parts together, sealing them, amending the soil, building garden benches, and much more. It was so much to do when I look back and also when I first began, I realized it was a long-term project and yet so fun.  But I am honestly so pleased that the garden is already productive at the start of the growing season. We're eating salad, strawberries and snow peas already! I can't wait for the tomatoes!

I didn't take an interest in gardening until we had our own home. I had gardened in pots a little bit when we lived in apartments. But having a home and a garden really stepped up that interest. It is really a slow learning process because if you fail one season, you kind of have to wait for the next season to try again. So, for me it was a lot of trial and error. I think that having been exposed to it more as a child would have help demystify it a little bit. And I am surprised by how much knowledge some of the students already have. Some have taken home extra plants and started growing them at home as well.”

Michael Elola The Lucky Garden

Local businessman, Michael Elola from The Lucky Garden who donated his time and talents to install an irrigation system to support the garden.

The planter boxes were constructed by the students. The drip irrigation systems posed more of a challenge. The project had already been receiving support from The Lucky Garden. This Dublin-based business is owned and operated by Michael & Natalie Elola. Understanding the scope of the ultimate outcome, Michael donated his time and skills to complete an effective drip system – one that will operate automatically during the summer months. It was a wonderful collaboration between our schools and local entrepreneurs. Thank you Elola family!