Excitement for ‘Gardenpalooza’!

During the dark depths of winter, the NKE Arboretum Committee has stayed busy thinking spring and making exciting plans for our school. This year, for the first time, NKE will celebrate our gardens and outdoor education efforts with a “Gardenpalooza” week in which all NKE students will participate. This Gardenpalooza week will be a perfect finale to an entire month of wellness at NKE (the three weeks before will celebrate mindfulness, giving back, and being active).

Our Gardenpalooza week, May 15–19, will kick off with all students meeting with their Character Families on Monday and learning about sustainability. They will watch a video from our administrative intern, Ms. Knutson, challenging each class to work together to complete a bingo card that contains different fun ideas for learning outside; classes that get bingo will be able to eat a picnic lunch outside that Friday. Also, during the week, each class will go outside to plant in our gardens, amend our garden soil, plant a rain garden, and more. We will need volunteers to help us get the kids outside that week—if you are interested, please contact Kim Sorbet by email at kimmwahlgren@yahoo.com.

To cap off our Gardenpalooza week, we plan to have a celebration open house on that Friday, May 19, during which our school families will be able to tour our new hoop house (!), visit the Arboretum, eat a picnic dinner and visit stations for nature art, local nature experts and more. We hope to see you there!

Fantastic Outdoor Ed News for the New Year

It was, indeed, a happy new year for the NKE: We started the year with fantastic momentum for our outdoor education efforts at NKE. There are two distinct but related parts that we are excited to share.

First, we were awarded a grant for close to $5,500 from the Wisconsin-based Abbot Foundation (a foundation related to the family of a NKE staff member) to purchase our own hoop house—the same model as the one that has already proven to work well at Oregon Middle School. Having the hoop house will greatly expand not just our space for gardening but also our seasons. At OMS, one of the things they are able to do with their hoop house is grow food that served at their cafeteria salad bar, and we hope to do the same at NKE so our kids can eat their own fresh food!

Second, when school came back in session we got the news that we also had received a Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant for more than $4,200. We had applied for this grant with the intent of being able to outfit our incoming hoop house with all the supplies necessary to hit the ground running. So this spring we’ll be doing some serious shopping for greenhouse shelving, seed starting kits and irrigation supplies, as well as building new raised beds inside our hoop house.

If you’d like to volunteer or help with our gardening efforts in any way, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact Mr. Kluck at cjkluck@oregonsd.net.

P.S. Two reminders: You can follow our progress on Facebook at facebook.com/NKEArb. Also, please save your Bill’s Food Center receipts and turn them in at school! Bill’s donates 1% of the receipts we turn in to the NKE Arb, which really adds up.

Outdoor Education Efforts in Full Swing All Summer

As I write this, school has been underway for only a few weeks, but our outdoor education efforts were in full swing throughout the summer. Some exciting updates include:

harvestevening• We held three “Harvest Evenings” throughout the summer. We harvested food from the raised beds in the Arboretum and the outdoor classroom between NKE and PVE and donated the fresh produce to the Oregon Area Food Pantry. We also pulled weeds (so many weeds!) and much more.

• The committee dedicated to enhancing our new outdoor classroom met several times and consulted with experts from Community GroundWorks/Sustain Dane to create a master plan for the entire space from PVE to NKE. You might notice the first new project underway—renovation of the area outside the first/second grade doors surrounding the tree we refer to as “Mother Oak.” This majestic tree will now have a beautiful space surrounding her, including a new butterfly garden certified as a Monarch Waystation, a path and natural seating.

• Plans have begun to be able to serve food raised in our NKE gardens to our students in the cafeteria. We are modeling these efforts after the successful program already in place at the Oregon Middle School, where they use a large hoop house to extend the growing season and serve their homegrown food in the cafeteria’s salad bar. We are actively applying for grants and looking for potential donors for this project. If you are interested in supporting this exciting project, please contact Mr. Kluck or use the donation form on the NKE Arboretum website at www.nkearboretum.org.

• We met with staff from Brooklyn Elementary School to share ideas about our gardening programs. In May 2017 we plan to hold a sort of “garden-palooza” week where all the NKE classes get to participate in planting in our garden beds and celebrate our gardening efforts.

If you are interested in helping with any of these projects—either with your time or with financial support, or if you have new ideas you’d like to discuss, please let Mr. Kluck know. One simple way anyone can help is by saving your receipts from Bill’s Food Center and turning them in at school; Bill’s donates 1% of all receipts we collect back to our Arboretum. That really adds up!

And, finally, you can always follow our progress on our Facebook page.

How Seed Catalogs Turned Into NKE Kids Buying a Farm

Earlier this year, a big pile of old seed catalogs I handed to fourth-grade NKE teacher Emily Anderson during an NKE Arboretum committee meeting took on a life vastly beyond what I had imagined—an opportunity for Project-Based Learning. What is PBL? “Students take charge of their education through hands-on, Project-Based Learning,” explains Ms. Anderson. “PBL  is a dynamic classroom approach in which students boldly explore real-world problems and acquire a deeper knowledge of the content.”

June16Blog-project-based-learning-gardening-LRIdeas for projects may ignite at any time, anywhere, and in this case the old catalogs were perfectly timed for the “Common Core State Standard 4.MS.A.3: Apply the area and perimeter formulas for rectangles in real world and mathematical problems.” Traditionally, this standard is met by teaching students how to measure length, width, and the relationship between the two. However, when Ms. Anderson saw those seed catalogs, an idea struck her, she says: What if, instead of using the pre-created curriculum-based SmartBoard lesson to teach area and perimeter, she created her own project using these catalogs?

And so the Buy a Farm Project was born. Each student received $100,000 to buy a farm. “Initially, students thought $100,000 was a lot of money,” Ms. Anderson says. “That is, until they learned that it also needed to cover the cost of buildings/shelters on their farm, seeds for planting, irrigation systems, equipment (tractors, rototillers, etc.), and farm insurance.”

The project began by students individually choosing which crops they’d like to grow. Next, they researched farm animals and decided if they would like to have animals on their farm, too. After that, they used real-life USDA Agriculture Maps online to determine where the best place would be to purchase land, based on the specific fruits, vegetables and animals they were interested in. They learned about Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening and used the NKE Arboretum to measure and plan their own garden beds.  

A big step was using LandWatch.com to look at real-life properties that are currently for sale in the United States, Ms. Anderson says. Through weeks of research, students could view what may be available with their $100,000. When confident with their decision, students completed a Land Purchase Request. After they “purchased” their individual property, students had to problem solve for housing options. This led to a conversation about risk management, financial literacy, and insurance.  

Insurance—both dwelling and crop protection—was a key player in the Buy a Farm project. Finally, students rounded out the project by creating a map of their farm based on the specific dimensions of their property and how many acres they’d purchased. This map helped them decide and calculate quantities of seeds to purchase from the many different seed catalogs that were on hand. Eventually, if students realized they needed more money than Ms. Anderson had offered, they learned how to write grants to request additional funding.  

During this project, Ms. Anderson played many different roles, she says: teacher, doctor, insurance agent, farmer, employee of the United States Department of Agriculture, meteorologist and seed catalog owner. Students were assessed and evaluated in real time, with real-life scenarios. “It was more than obvious: They were energized by the role-playing opportunities and captivated with the voice and choice woven within this project,” Ms. Anderson says.

The Buy a Farm project was not a task to be completed at the end of a unit to show mastery of standards or skills. Instead, the learning takes place through participating in the project. “I saw a change in my students that astounded me,” she says. “As time went on, it became more apparent that Buy a Farm resulted in more engaged, self-directed 4th graders who took ownership and responsibility for their learning.”

Not bad for a pile of old seed catalogs! How else can our efforts with the Arboretum and outdoor education inspire more experiential learning at NKE? The possibilities are limited only by imagination. If you’d like to get involved in our efforts, please contact NKE Principal Chris Kluck at cjkluck@oregonsd.net. And you can always follow our efforts on Facebook.

Final Reflections on Kids & Gardening from Sara Lubbers

Sara-Lubbers-salsa-making  Next month, NKE will officially say goodbye to school counselor Sara Lubbers as she retires after 25 years at our school. Ms. Lubbers has been an integral part of the efforts at NKE to encourage outdoor/garden education. I sat down with her to get some thoughts on her passion for gardening and how that impacts our students.

How did you develop an interest in gardening?

My dad was raised in a family of eight during the Depression, when this was the way families were fed from June-October in Wisconsin. My grandmother always had a huge garden and that was how they ate—the farm to table movement really isn’t a new concept! I have a distinct memory of being four with my dad at my grandmother’s garden in Sheboygan. As a little kid I loved flowers and loved to find out about things that were growing. She grew lima beans—what is known as a butter bean—and I would pick and eat them. We always had a large garden growing up, and my dad, along with my grandmother inspired my interest in gardening. Growing up, I enjoyed weeding and harvesting, along with cooking and canning the harvest with my mom. Eating fresh food was a strong value for my family.

Sara-Lubbers-gardeningHow does that translate into your work here with kids?

Ever since I’ve been here, the Arboretum has been an area in transition. Various staff members through the years have taken interest in it and have wanted to develop the space to have native plants, but nothing specific for gardening like it is now really took shape. Depending on who was on staff, we had different revitalizations of the Arboretum, and I’ve always tried to be an active participant. As a school counselor, I think movement is important, being out in nature—kids can deal with stress and personal struggles by being outside. Nothing has pleased me more than the current revitalization of the Arboretum with active parents wanting to make this a priority four years ago. I jumped on the team and played an active role in making sure we could have garden beds. That was my focus, although I think the other areas are important, too. Kids being healthy and knowing where their food comes from is vital for this next generation.

Are there certain memories that have stuck with you?

Some of my great memories are of being involved with the planting of our first raised beds, teaching students about the process of planting and then helping students to make salsa in their classrooms. After our first year of having raised beds, we had an amazing tomato harvest. I just offered to help, and some classrooms took me up on the offer. Staff brought in blenders and food processors, and we made salsa and bruschetta. I will never forget going out in the Arboretum with a group of students from Andrea DeNure’s classroom. I took a group and we took some bowls and we gathered cherry tomatoes and small yellow tomatoes. They were like, “But this is yellow!” I said, “Yes, tomatoes come in many different colors.” Some were on the ground, and they asked if we could eat those, and what the straw was for …  just the learning lessons that come from questions in important with the process of understanding  what it takes to grow healthy food. Children are so earnest in wanting to know. It was so exciting to see how thrilled they were to taste the tomato and make something with it. This is project-based learning, and you want high engagement in whatever you are having kids learn. Participation and motivation is higher and it brings many of their skills together. It’s not just food; it’s about measuring, about math and reading … being able to speak about it and articulate what’s happening through the process.

Kids-seedsWhat impact has your outdoor education training had?

After our first year of moving forward with parent involvement and bigger long-range plans for the Arboretum, I and a couple other staff members took a weeklong summer class class for educators on gardening education with Community Groundworks here in Madison. That was a very important class for me because I was with like-minded people and we were at Troy Gardens, which has a very developed gardening program for children where they live. Kids can come at no cost and make something fresh or do art projects in the garden or just sit and be quiet and read. It is a very well-developed program, and I was able  to see that functioning. We were able to meet other people involved in this whole area of school gardens, and Madison has a very strong program in school gardens. One of the really fun things we did at the end of the week was take tours of these gardens and see not only what they grew but how they were doing it, how it was laid out and accessible for different developmental needs.

How has use of the Arboretum outdoor classroom changed in recent years?

Now staff are not so reluctant to use it, the interest in using the raised beds has increased and staff are using the various spaces for creative writing, breaks and more. The space in recent years has become attractive and a desirable place to be. With the recent spring weather, kids have been out there reading and writing. I really think most classrooms use it at some level. The hope is that it will continue being part of our Netherwood culture. Kids really want to know: How does a tomato grow? How do onions grow? You can pick beans and then eat them? Kids learn that way and get excited and tell their friends. It’s been wonderful—one of those extra perks—that I’ve been able to be in a school and combine my passion for gardening education. As a counselor I advocate for kids to deal with their problems and learn healthy ways to manage their struggles, and the Arboretum goes hand in hand with that.

Fun Theme Gardens to Try with Kids

Kids love digging in the dirt no matter what, but planting a garden can be even more fun and meaningful when you pick a theme and plan the garden together. Here are just a handful of the fun ideas you can try at home (you can find many more by searching online). Some of our classes will be trying these this spring! Remember, you don’t need a huge space to start a garden. Even a few containers on a patio can provide a fun and productive garden for your family.


A Three Sisters garden of corn, squash and beans. (Photo credit: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/hoop-house_gardener/conversations/topics/2350)

ABC Garden: Try to grow one plant for each letter of the alphabet and make your own letter markers to use in the garden.

International Garden: Choose a country or culture and make plant selections based on what is typically grown and eaten there.

Literacy Garden: Choose plants based on a favorite children’s book, such as “Growing Vegetable Soup,” “Peter Rabbit,” “The Ugly Vegetables” or the Winnie the Pooh books.

Pizza Garden: Grow all the ingredients for pizza such as tomatoes, peppers, oregano, basil, onions, garlic, and more.

Rainbow Garden: Try to plant at least one food for each color of the rainbow.

Salsa Garden: Grow all the ingredients to make your own salsa, such as tomatoes, cilantro, onions, peppers, and garlic.

Tea Garden: Grow herbs such as chamomile, mint, lemon verbena, lemon basil, monarda and more that can then be used to have your own tea party!

Three Sisters Garden: Plant corn, beans, and squash together—according to Iroquois legend, those are three inseparable sisters who grow and thrive only when they are together.

Try-It Garden: Choose foods that the kids have never heard of or tried before.

An Early Spring at NKE

As I write this, we’re just getting past two weeks of frigid temps and a fresh snowfall. But behind the scenes at school, our minds are focused on creating an early spring inside the classrooms at NKE. This year, for the first time, we have many classes who will be doing seed-starting projects using grow lights.

SeedlingGrowLightEverything from pumpkins and peppers to kohlrabi and cabbage can be easily started inside, some as early as March. The classes will nurture the seedlings until they are ready to be planted in our raised beds in the Arboretum. We also have new raised beds slated for construction first thing this spring in the outdoor education space between NKE and PVE.

This effort was initially inspired by a grant we received from the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation supporting gardening at school. Part of that grant went to buying seed-starting kits. As it turns out, we have so much interest we are dedicating money from the NKE Arboretum fund-raising to buying enough kits so all interested classes can participate in this fun, engaging project.

If you would like to support the NKE Arboretum projects, we always welcome help! We meet the first Mondays of the month at 5 p.m. at school, and you can make a monetary (tax-deductible) donation by going to www.nkearboretum.org and clicking on “How to Donate.” Keep an eye out for our first spring volunteer day announcement, too (follow us on Facebook to find out dates as they are planned).

Springing Forward With Gardening at NKE

As I write this, spring fever is setting in and plans for spring gardening are in motion. What a relief after another Wisconsin winter! Seeing the daffodils pushing up through the crunchy brown leaves always seems like a miracle.

At NKE, gardening actually started in March, as groups of students from third and fourth grades did a “winter sowing” project in which seeds are planted in soil in milk jugs, then set outside in the snow. The kids were super enthusiastic about getting their hands in the dirt, planting the seeds and then being set loose in the Arboretum to trod through the snow and place the milk jugs in the sun. Thanks go out to NKE parent Anne Michels for organizing and leading this project! Keep an eye on our Facebook page to see what comes to life in our milk jugs.

Our first NKE Arboretum volunteer party is planned for Saturday, April 25, from 1–4 p.m. Traditionally this is our spring cleanup day, when we rake out beds and tidy up the space. This year some other things on our docket include pulling the (invasive) garlic mustard, installing fronts on our compost bins made out of repurposed wooden pallets, hooking up our rain barrels again (we certainly hope any freezing weather is over by then!) and digging out the area for our new rain garden.

Several people have asked me what a rain garden is. Basically it’s a shallow depression planted with native plants that have extremely deep root systems. Typically you put a rain garden in a place where you want to capture rainwater, diverting it from going down a storm drain. Those deep roots absorb an amazing amount of rain water. This is ideal for a place like the NKE Arboretum, where a large volume of water comes off the roof and causes water problems for the surrounding building.

We’ll hope to see you at our spring volunteer party—come for the whole time or drop in for a half hour. Bring your kids and your work gloves. It’s always fun to see the progress and meet other school families.

As always, you can keep tabs on our progress at www.nkearboretum.org and our Facebook page. Happy spring, and happy planting!

Winter Sowing at NKE

WinterSowing1Groups of NKE 3rd and 4th grade students got to participate in the “winter sowing” seed starting project at NKE on March 6! Seeds are started in these milk jugs, which can be set right outside now and act like a mini greenhouse. (You can read more about how winter-sowing works, and how easy it is to do at your own house, here.)

It was so great to see the kids’ enthusiasm for this. Two favorite things overheard during the process: “I love getting my hands dirty!” and “I would totally miss recess for this!” We also had a special visitor: Eileen Wilson, executive director of the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation (and Oregon resident!) stopped by. We’d like to thank the Foundation again for supporting school gardening at NKE! And, huge thanks to NKE parent Anne Michels for organizing this fun undertaking! You can see more pics of our project in our Facebook album here.


WI Medical Society Grant Supports NKE Gardening

SaraLubbersEsserClass2014-lowresAn important (and exciting) part of our NKE Arboretum is our vegetable garden area. In our first year, in 2012, we built four large raised vegetable beds that were planted by our fourth-grade classes as part of their life science curriculum. We quickly found that other classes wanted to participate, and as a result we added two additional large beds and other smaller raised planters. These days interested classes sign up to “adopt” part of a bed and plant it as soon as weather allows in spring (thanks go out to our school guidance counselor, Sara Lubbers, for coordinating these efforts!).

Kids at school often say the days they worked in the gardens were their favorite days of the whole year, so as our NKE Arboretum group discussed progress this fall, we brainstormed ways we could expand the gardens’ reach despite our space limitations and Wisconsin climate. Ideas included students starting plants from seed indoors and also creating mini “hoop houses” that are basically little greenhouses covering the raised beds so plants can go in the raised beds earlier in spring and stay growing outside later in the fall. We also discussed the fact that water management is always an issue in the Arboretum (a huge amount of water drains off the school roof into that courtyard) and the possibility of creating a rain garden.

That left the question of how to fund these new efforts, and I have great news on that front: We recently received notice that we have been awarded a $1,000 educational grant from the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation supporting our school gardening efforts! We’d like to thank the WMSF for recognizing the importance of school gardening on student wellness. With their support, we’ll be able to continue expanding the reach of outdoor education for children at NKE. Keep an eye on our Facebook page at www.facebook/com/NKEArb for updates on progress! And, as always, if you’d like to get involved in any way, please contact NKE Principal Dan Rikli at der@oregonsd.net.

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