DERBY – This is a remarkable story that goes way beyond the proverb about teaching someone how to fish for themselves.
It began simply enough. Last November, Derby Elementary School’s fourth-grade teachers and their counterparts at Newport City Elementary applied for a joint $9,000 grant from the state Agency of Agriculture Food & Markets.
With help from Green Mountain Farm to School (GMFTS), the teachers sought funds for an innovative educational program known as “project-based learning,” that, in this case, would connect class work to produce gardening.
In Derby, teachers Amy Nadeau, Jennie Davis and Debra Batista also took note of the depleted shelves in the community pantry where produce supplies were running critically low.
The results so far are extraordinary. According to Principal Stacy Urbin, the teachers came up with a winning combination that engaged the students in a very visible and relevant way.
“Their gusto at being able to give something back to their community was tangible,” Urbin said.
Math lessons tied to engineering concepts gave the youngsters’ confidence in their collaborative designs and construction of more than a dozen trellises. Earth science units were applied as hands-on “lab” work on how to till a plot in front of the school’s extensive parking lot.
Pupils also researched plants to discover which ones would best grow vertically. In the fall, math skills will be used to figure out if the trellises helped grow more fresh vegetables than those maturing on the ground.
With community service also a component of this innovative project-based learning curriculum, the teachers invited Maire Folan, GMFTS’s program manager, to speak with the students about additional opportunities beyond stocking the food shelf with fresh autumn bounty.
“It is amazing to see how these teachers are using the garden as a foundation for their classroom work,” Folan said. “The enthusiasm and interest from the fourth grade students to engage in this space, and in their community, is a wonderful model of how farm-to-school can be a catalyst for learning.”
As a registered dietitian, Folan also evaluates the menus prepared by the providers who contract with the NEK Council on Aging to serve lunch in community dining rooms and deliver Meals on Wheels to homebound elderly.
The pupils overwhelming decided to donate the nearly $300 they raised from their trellis sales to Cornucopia in Newport which delivers nutritionally balanced meals five days a week to more than 160 seniors throughout the region.
“This is a remarkable gift from these students to their community,” said a grateful Lallie Mambourg, the Council’s Nutrition Director, about the unique inter-generational project. “The Meals on Wheels participants served by Cornucopia will be touched by their generosity and creativity. My heartfelt thanks to the students, teachers, and principal of Derby Elementary.”