Patton’s green thumbs earning gold stars

Long before the Patton Project Gardens grew into a multi-award-winning program, two family and consumer science teachers at Charles F. Patton Middle School repeatedly had their sanity questioned.

Chirag Choudray, a seventh-grader, produces a strawberry from one of the Patton Project Gardens' high tunnels.

Chirag Choudhray, a seventh-grader, proudly displays a ripe strawberry, freshly picked from one of the Patton Project Gardens' high tunnels.

“Oh my goodness: They’re crazy,” Marie Wickersham recalled thinking after Betsy Ballard and Kim Hisler, teachers in the Family and Consumer Science (FCS) Department, approached her in 2010.

That sentiment, which was shared by many others, would quickly be reversed. Wickersham, who heads food services for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, was one of more than half a dozen people who applauded the initiative before an audience at the middle school on Wednesday, Sept. 28.

The group – not exactly a garden-variety assemblage – included national, state, and local dignitaries as well as half a dozen enthusiastic students.

The celebratory event stemmed from a visit by Andrea Suarez Falken, director of the Green Ribbon Schools initiative for the U.S. Department of Education. Patton received the Green Ribbon Schools award in April 2015, one of only 58 schools in the country to earn that status.

Supt. John C. Sanville (from right) addresses the crowd as Charles F. Patton Principal Timothy Hoffman and Andrea Suarez Falken from the U.S. Department of Education listen.

Supt. John C. Sanville (from right) addresses the crowd as Charles F. Patton Principal Timothy Hoffman and Andrea Suarez Falken from the U.S. Department of Education listen.

Falken spends part of her time on the Green Strides tour, traveling to the schools that have been recognized. She said it was wonderful to see Patton’s set-up first-hand. The school was nominated by the Pennsylvania State Department of Education for reducing its environmental impact and its energy efficiency; for its positive impact on the  performance and health of students and staff; and for its effective environmental and sustainability education.

The Patton Project Gardens includes about 30 raised beds; a greenhouse; a solar array to power the greenhouse; a weather station; high tunnels, also known as hoop buildings, for extending the growing season; compost bins; drip-line irrigation systems; hydroponic tanks, outdoor classrooms; recycling initiatives; and arches and a pergola for crops that climb.

Patton Project Gardens' creators Kim Hisler and Betsy Ballard, listen as the Chester County Food Bank's Phoebe Kitson-Davis applauds its impact.

Patton Project Gardens' creators Kim Hisler (from left) and Betsy Ballard, listen as the Chester County Food Bank's Phoebe Kitson-Davis applauds the program's impact.

Falken said plenty of schools have implemented similar technology; however, what set Patton apart was not only the scope of its initiative but also the way in which it has been integrated into a variety of disciplines. For example, math, geography and science lessons have taken root in the garden, exploring a variety of environmental issues and problem-solving.

Garden beds also foster healthy eating, exercise, and community service. These days, the lettuce in the cafeteria that goes into students' sandwiches owes its existence to the Patton gardens, Wickersham said.

“This is absolutely phenomenal,” exclaimed David Bauman, who oversees the Pennsylvania Green Ribbon Schools program. “I’m just amazed at the connections you’re making for the kids.”

Joel Smith, a systems account executive with Tri-M, explains his company's involvement with the Patton Project Gardens.

Joel Smith, a systems account executive with Tri-M, explains his company's involvement with the Patton Project Gardens.

Unionville-Chadds Ford Superintendent John C. Sanville agreed, calling the project “all that is right and good in education today.”

For Patton Principal Timothy Hoffman, the garden project has consistently demonstrated the power of collaboration. In addition to myriad partnerships within the building, he cited numerous community and business alliances that have contributed to its success.

One of those partners was the Tri-M Group LLC, which was well-represented at the gathering and has donated time and materials for much of the technology. Joel Smith, a Tri-M systems account executive, explained that one of the projects originated after he learned just how labor-intensive the school’s high tunnels were.

“We had to come out every day to crank the shades … and we were watering by hand,” said Hisler, explaining how the makeshift greenhouses operated. “Now we can focus on teaching instead of wondering: Are the plants going to die?”

David Bauman, director of Pennsylvania's Green Ribbon Schools program, enjoys a primer on composting from a group of students.

David Bauman (left), director of Pennsylvania's Green Ribbon Schools program, enjoys a primer on composting from a group of students.

The fully-automated system Tri-M created enables variables such as light, heat, humidity and water to be monitored and controlled from afar.

Other recent additions were student-directed. Eleventh-grader CJ McClure led the effort to build large compost bins. He said they were constructed using local, rough-sawn cypress. McClure, whose assistants included his brother, Thomas, a 9th-grader, said he expected the first batch of compost to be ready for planting in the spring. “It’s been really rewarding to me,” he said.

Phoebe Kitson-Davis, agency and community partnership manager for the Chester County Food Bank, said that Patton’s program has helped the “get up and grow” organization immensely through donations to many agencies in need – about 20,000 pounds of produce to date. "The fresh produce Patton, other raised bed gardens, local farms and our Food Bank partners provide makes all the difference in the world when it comes to health and well-being for all," she said.

Teacher Betsy Ballard points out the variety of crops in one of the high tunnels.

Teacher Betsy Ballard points out the variety of crops in one of the high tunnels.

In the project’s infancy, Ballard said that when she and Hisler learned from the Food Bank that the highest number of raised beds at one location was 15, their competitive edge surfaced. “We need to start with 16 beds,” Ballard said.

Fortunately for Ballard and Hisler, then-Principal Bruce Vosburgh, who also attended Wednesday’s celebration, was not one of the early naysayers. He said he welcomed the suggestion, having already concluded that the Family and Consumer Science Department’s curriculum needed a makeover. “People just weren’t sewing anymore,” he said.

After Ballard and Hisler took a course at Longwood Gardens about school gardening, their resolve to create something special intensified. Both declined to identify the school that the Longwood class visited, but both agreed: “We can do better than that.”

Unionville High student CJ McClure explains the process that went into the construction of the Patton Project Gardens' compost bins.

Unionville High student CJ McClure explains the process that went into the construction of the Patton Project Gardens' compost bins.

And according to Longwood Gardens, Ballard and Hisler were right.

“They are now used as a premier site,” said Michelle Cugini, the school and youth program specialist for Longwood. “We use them to show other schools what can be done ... It’s inspirational, over-the-top inspirational.”

In addition to the Green Ribbon Schools’ recognition, the Patton Project Gardens has garnered awards from the National Wildlife Federation, the National School Board Association, Eco-Schools USA, and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.

Bridget Telenko, a member of the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Foundation, has seen the benefits of the Patton Project Gardens first-hand. After participating in the program, her eighth-grade daughter now prefers pita chips over potato chips.

Even better: The teen makes the healthier snack herself.

About CFLive Staff

See Contributors Page http://chaddsfordlive.com/writers/

Comments

comments

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (5 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
Loading...
 

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.