Health in Motion: Mon Valley School Garden
Oct 24

Health in Motion: Mon Valley School Garden

By Cathy Scott and Lynda McGuirk

This article is a part of a series called Health in Motion brought you by Let’s Move Pittsburgh. Health in Motion is intended to showcase the efforts of schools and community organizations in the Pittsburgh region who are leading children to a healthier future. A new project with a guest author or interviewee will be featured each month. Let’s Move Pittsburgh hopes that Health in Motion will encourage leaders to adopt healthy programs in their communities and inspire readers to make healthy changes in their own lives.

Cathy Scott is the Elementary Emotional Support Teacher and Lynda McGuirk is the Life Skills Support Teacher at Mon Valley School, a 2015 and 2016 Champion Schools award winner.

Mon Valley Garden has been an experience of growth for students, families and teachers.

Our Champion Schools grant gave our students the opportunity to experience the reward of community gardening across grade levels and curricula. Our students have learned about enjoying healthy foods in ways they hadn’t thought of before. Many of our students learn best through hands-on activities and experiences. Some of our students have never had the opportunity to see plants grow, let alone garden or connect the garden to table as a resource for nutritious eating. Through our garden, they have been able to do just that!

We started lettuce plants from seed, and sent the plants home as a Mother’s Day gifts. Last spring students started seeds for our garden in February and March, and cared for the seedlings until planting outside. They worked as teams to mix soil and fill planters with the appropriate amount of soil for 20 planters. Each Mon Valley classroom was able to plant a vegetable in one of the planters. Additionally, our students were able to fill four raised beds with fruits, vegetables and flowers, most of which they grew from seed.  The vegetables included sweet corn, popcorn, glass corn, sweet and hot peppers, Swiss chard, lettuce, radish, carrots, kale, chocolate cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, yellow squash, pumpkin, watermelon, sunflowers, herbs, marigolds, scallions, butterfly bush, yarrow, several varieties of beans, peas, strawberries and cantaloupe.  

Students in our vocational classes removed hedges, built raised beds and a bean teepee, made walkway stepping stones, laid edging, and made and spread mulch.

Students studied the ingredients in healthy food vs. junk food, conducted research and identified possible toxic elements in junk food.  They conducted a taste test and found that they actually liked the taste of healthy food better than the taste of junk food.

Students cultivated and cared for the garden throughout the summer, and harvested fruits and vegetables. Summer program students created garden art, built pollinator feeding stations, made delicious snacks from garden produce, labeled and learned about all the garden plants, gained an understanding of the necessity of pollinators, and recycled and composted shredded paper. At this time students are busy collecting seeds and preparing the garden for winter.

We have also planned an all-school Garden Harvest Fun Day in which students will have the opportunity to experience the garden in a new way.  We will provide sensory experiences, speech and language development games using a garden theme, bulb and garlic planting, scarecrow making, and seed gathering activities.

The Champion Schools Grant has enabled us to provide every one of these enriching opportunities. We are grateful and look forward to continuing to work with Phipps and Let’s Move Pittsburgh!