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The Learning Garden Project

Updated: Jul 1, 2020

Greeted with a high five, handshake or a hug, the energy and love in Katie Carlson’s classroom at Garden Hills Elementary School serves as a testament to the bonded relationship among her and her students. Proud gardeners at Garden Hills Elementary (May 2018)

During her first year at Garden Hills, Katie Carlson noticed several rotten garden beds sprinkled around the campus. There appeared to be a missing opportunity to support students with limited exposure to healthy eating and no experience with gardening. After inquiring about the neglected garden beds, Carlson found that the garden footprint was available for her to use with her students. Excited to bring healthy eating and gardening to her students, Carlson applied for the 2014 Teach On Project's Award for Excellence in Education. And won.


Award Winner: Katie Carlson

Winner Cohort: 2014

Project Title: The Learning Garden Project

Student Reach as of 2018: 650 and counting


Gardening was a new venture to Carlson and she learned right alongside of her students while implementing the Learning Garden Project. The project stipend of the TOP grant afforded her fifteen garden beds, child size tools, watering cans, compost, seeds, picture books for gardening, and more. With all of her new resources and tools, Carlson was ready to transform the rotten garden beds into learning opportunities for her students and the school. An overwhelming wave of support came from the community and parents of Garden Hills. On first the day of installation, the weather was dreary and raining. Carlson was shocked to see that everyone still came out to make these gardens happen for the children; Whole Foods brought pastries, parents brought more parents.

Three years later, the Learning Garden Project is going strong. The garden serves as a learning tool inside and outside of the classroom for Carlson’s students and students school wide. The hands-on experiences from the garden integrates easily with the math and science taught in their classroom. “We learn about herbs and different foods in the garden” one student offers up. He continues to add that they create different foods from the garden like glazed carrots or salsa. “We make things out of what we’ve planted.” Carlson notices that the garden makes them feel special and gives them the confidence to work hard.

After securing additional project funding, Carlson was able to attract even more support. The Captain Planet Foundation provided the school with a mobile cooking cart so tasty garden treats can travel around to classes throughout the school building. Carlson has also identified a garden curriculum (paired with teacher stipends) that allows teachers from all grade levels to participate in the Learning Garden Project. The school Parent Teacher Association even has a budget line item specifically for the school garden.

Above all, the students are the gardens’ number one supporters. Eager to pluck the weeds that have settled in over the weekend and just as eager to water their plants, each student puts love and care into the garden one by one. As Carlson shares:

The outcomes of this project exceeded expectations. It brought together our staff, students, families and local community for a common cause of building an effective garden-based learning program and healthier school community. As a result of the implementation of our learning garden, I have noticed a significant difference in my students’ choices in the cafeteria, openness to try to new things, willingness to dig in the dirt and overall excitement about education.

Gardens continue to pop up around the campus as Carlson’s Learning Garden Project inspires teachers. The school has accepted and welcomed this new way of learning into their lives- something Carlson hopes will continue to grow for a long, long time.


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