Lawrence M. Walsh
Homer Glen students ready to grow
Students, staff plant fruits, vegetables in school garden
HOMER GLEN – Students gathered around the plant with its one strawberry, not yet ripe, careful not to dislodge the fruit from the vine.
The strawberry plant was one of several attractions as students, staff and guests milled around the raised garden beds at William E. Young School, christened the Young Sprouts Grow and Learn Garden, during a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, May 15.
The project is a collaboration between Will County, the Regional Office of Education, District 33C and the school.
“Every plant was planted by a child,” said Katie Koniewicz, who works in the school’s front office and volunteered to coordinate the project.
She said every group, from the Early Childhood classes for 3- to 5-year-olds to the fourth grade, had a role:
- The Early Childhood students planted pumpkin seeds and have a worm farm in their classroom. They will have a “Free the Worms” event at which the worms will be released into the raised gardens;
- Kindergarten students have been watering and tending the garden and are learning to identify plants;
- First graders planted sunflowers and an assortment of herbs and vegetables. They also are learning about the life stages of butterflies and will let their classroom butterflies free to explore the garden;
- Second graders planted peas and others vegetables. The activity integrated with their science unit on seed growth;
- Third graders also planted herbs and vegetables. The garden work was paired with a unit on healthy heating and the benefit of growing organic vegetables. Third graders also painted rocks to decorate the garden;
- Fourth-grade students have taken on the main role with the garden, and planted zucchini and cucumbers. They also will be discussing composting and be involved in creating a garden compost.
Koniewicz lined up high school students who need to volunteer hours to water and weed the garden during the summer.
Kathy Pecora, Conservation and Energy Specialist in the Will County Resource Recovery and Energy Division of the County’s Land Use Department, herself an avid gardener, hopes other schools will follow William E. Young’s example. For many schools, the biggest stumbling block to participating in the gardening program, is having people to care for it over the summer months.
No straight lines
When it came time to design the Grow and Learn Garden, Frank Esposito, Grounds Maintenance Supervisor and also a home gardener, gave his assistant, Tod Pedigo, one instruction. “I just didn’t want any straight lines.”
Esposito said straight lines would encourage students to run through the garden. So Pedigo designed the raised beds to be a walk-encouraging maze. He also made the beds narrow enough so the young gardeners can reach all the way to the middle from the mulched paths.
Koniewicz said there are already plans for improvements, such as a drip hose, for next year.
Plants were donated by Carl Smits Farms and Esposito.
Pecora said the RRE Division is also involved with a program for veterans at the Joliet Park District Community Garden, working with six gardeners there. Each received a $200 grant for tools and supplies, and plants to grow.
“We’re working with Richland School and a non-profit group called STEM from the University of St. Francis,” she said. The garden there will not contain vegetables, but will provide water conservation and pollinator opportunities.
The USF group also designed a garden at Evergreen Terrace, working with St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and Zion Tabernacle of Joliet. A butterfly garden and outdoor living area are the hallmarks there.
Additional information about the Will County Land Use Department and its activities can be found at www.willcountygreen.com. The department is led by Director Curt Paddock and is under County Executive Larry Walsh’s office.