GROW Education - Teaching Sustainability to New Bedford Grade School Students

Jun 17, 2014

Many parents find they’re unable to spend enough quality time with their kids during the week. The pressures of work and other obligations often makes that difficult, if not impossible. This is especially true for parents and students at the Hannigan School in New Bedford. These students are attending classes at a facility two miles away from their regular school building, while it undergoes extensive renovations But a new program gives these students and their families a chance to re-connect on weekends by cultivating gardens together. 

It’s just before 10AM on a Saturday morning, as a group of New Bedford students and their parents gather in the cafeteria of a marine education center called “Sea Lab”. These kids are students at the Hannigan School about two miles away. While their regular building undergoes repairs – a project that could take three or four years -- the kids attend classes here at Sea Lab on Clark’s Point at the southern tip of New Bedford. It’s a more suburban setting than where most of these kids live. And they’re  heading outdoors to plant gardens with their parents.

They listened attentively as Zoe Hansen DiBello gave instructions about how to plant flowers, herbs and vegetables in small gardens just outside the school.

Hansen-DiBello is GROW Education Coordinator with the Marion Institute. GROW Education helps teachers expand nutrition and sustainability education in their schools. One of its efforts is helping students and their families work together to plant school gardens.

“Our children get bused here every day. And we don’t have that parent connection,” said first grade teacher Sally Frazee. “And a lot of these parents, even though it’s two miles away, it’s difficult for them to come down. So this is a wonderful opportunity on a Saturday morning to be involved, see where their children go to school, and utilize what we have.”

First and second graders got to work in the herb garden in front of the Sea Lab building. Third, fourth and fifth grade students walked around the corner to the New Bedford community garden in Victory Park, where they planted carrots, tomatoes, green peppers and other produce.

Frazee said any student who wants to can participate. “There’s only one stipulation. They had to bring a parent, because we really want to get the students and the parents involved,” she said. 

Liz-Angie Rodriguez of New Bedford was planting with three of her kids.

“Just having everybody together, and having the school do such a nice thing for these children from the city – it’s just unbelievable,” said Rodriguez.

Her daughter Angelie said she enjoys the messy part of gardening “…because we can get our hands dirty and it’s fun because we like to dig and all that.”

Eden Mejias said he can re-connect with his kids when he’s here.

“During the week, we work. We don’t have time to be with our kids – you know, full, full. So, a day like today, Saturday, come out and just enjoy the time with the family and with the teachers and the community, it’s beautiful. This is what it’s all about,” said Mejias.

Next to Eden, his son, Eden, Jr., planted yellow marigolds.

“We plant it down in the ground, then we put dirt up top of it so that it could grow,” Eden, Jr. said.

Over at the community garden in Victory Park, other Hannigan kids and their parents were hard at work.Chance Perks is New Bedford’s Arborist. He helped start this garden about three years ago, and volunteers his time helping out on weekends. He says the garden is open to anyone, including schools like Hannigan.

“The garden is pretty much tended by the students,” Perks noted. “You know, I work, so I give them little pointers. I’ll send out an e-mail saying, ‘Seven and eight need some good weeding. And, you know, have at it.’”

Perks says GROW Education offers these kids a different perspective on where they live.

“It shows what New Bedford offers from an angle they often won’t see. You know, they see a very urban angle of things. Let’s give ‘em the agricultural, the natural, the ecological,” he said.

Nearby, Zoe Hansen DiBello stood next to the fence, a long rake in her hand. She said the garden also serves a practical purpose for these families, many of whom live below the poverty line.

“When I first held this garden-planning workshop, I had families showing up with lists of things they would like to grow ‘cause they’re too expensive in the grocery store. So today is a direct reflection of addressing those problems,” said DiBello. She looked around at the young gardeners and their families.“It makes me smile just seeing all these parents when you hear or you read in the newspapers that parents don’t care, parents don’t wanna be engaged. And it’s like, on a day like today, tell me that’s true,” DiBello remarked.

Many of these families will be back during the summer months to harvest what they planted in Spring, on Saturday mornings like this one.