- Alexandria Projects
- Arlington Programs
Success Stories: Alexandria Projects
Chapel in the Woods
For more than four years, Beth El religious school students and their parents have played an active role in restoring the 2-acre forest behind the synagogue at 3830 Seminary Rd., Alexandria. The forest is called the Chapel in the Woods, as it has a prayer circle and two teaching circles that provide places for services and quiet meditation in addition to walking, playing and gardening. Although the kindergarten through seventh-grade classes visit the forest no more than twice a year, the environmental preservation theme has become very much a part of the curriculum year-round. Giving back to the earth, “tikkun olam,” is taught and practiced. Kids and parents help clear the woods of invasive species and replant with native trees, shrubs and perennials. Nancy Davis is the EMG volunteer working with this program.
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George Washington Middle School
Extension Master Gardeners Denise Dieter and Beth Tuttle, along with the Alexandria City Public School Garden Coordinator, planned and created the community and school garden at George Washington Middle School (GW) in Alexandria, VA. The effort was inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama, who had several successful vegetable gardens installed on the White House grounds.
The garden includes ten beds for the community garden and five raised beds for the student garden. Jordan Dieter, Denise’s son, constructed the original student garden, raised beds, and an information kiosk as his Eagle Scout project. The garden’s shed is likewise the result of another Eagle Scout project that occurred after the garden became fully operational. GW’s industrial technology class also contributed several bird houses in the garden’s early days.
Denise Dieter actively participated in the 50-minute after-school garden club at GW for about six years before the COVID-19 pandemic. The Science Department at GW led the club, along with one or two teachers who volunteered their time after school. The club met in the fall and spring for about an hour once a week and had an impressive number of kids participating for three or four growing seasons. Club participants would plant from seed as well as transplants, and use math to calculate proper spacing for rows and between individual plants.
Cool season vegetables and herbs were popular crops. With each weekly club meeting, Denise would provide a “taste of the garden”. This meant that if the club planted cilantro, they snacked on salsa and chips; if kale was planted, they tried kale chips; and if baby carrots were planted, they dined on hummus and baby carrots. Denise and the other garden leaders sat together with students at a picnic table and had a wonderful time!
The conversation often turned to the foods served in the kids’ homes, from special occasions to their own home garden delights. The kids learned that fresh herbs can embellish store bought jars of salsa and pasta sauces. The garden leaders always tried to send something home with the kids to share with and teach their families, including bundles of oregano, cilantro (a huge hit!), seeds, vegetables, and even easy recipes that they could try at home.
“Obviously, kids are great! Gardens are where kids can be teachers to their caregivers and siblings, given the right opportunities. They love that! We can support student gardeners by being organized, well planned, and letting them have a say in their little plots. Let them get caught doing science!” Denise Dieter
Jefferson-Houston Elementary School
EMG Lisa-Helene Lawson, worked with Beverly Shelton, the garden administrator at Jefferson-Houston Elementary School on a summer cover crops project for her EMG internship in 2022. Cover crops are low maintenance, control weeds, and add nitrogen to the soil. They planted cowpeas and buckwheat in the beds. In September, the thriving cover crops welcomed students back to school.
Older children at Jefferson-Houston learned about nitrogen, a major component of chlorophyll, essential for the photosynthesis process. Meanwhile, the kindergarten class had a math lesson and great fun picking and counting the cowpeas.
Patrick Henry Elementary Environmental After-School Club
“We created numerous lesson plans but the one that sticks out in my mind the most was the one on soil. We created containers filled with sand, silt, and clay. The children were encouraged to touch each material. We must have asked “What does this feel like?” One of the girls talked about coming to this country: Crossing a stream, where she felt sand under her feet. Her mother was on one side of the bank and she was in the water. There were other children who talked about their journeys, all tinged with trauma but told in a matter-of-fact way. It was moving and eye opening and altogether unexpected that the squishing of sand or mud in little hands would dislodge these memories so easily.” Wendy Mills
In Fall 2016, Wendy Mills, along with fellow EMGs Jessica Kaplan, Molly Newling, and Gerry Smolka, helped conduct an after school environmental program for second and third graders at Patrick Henry School in Alexandria, VA. The program was organized in conjunction with Caitlin Verdu, Arlington’s 4H director.
The kids met weekly. For them it was certainly a place to go and do some experiential learning, have a snack and some fun. The gardeners appreciated the energy and creativity that went into working with children. The experience enabled the garden leaders to not only teach the kids about gardening, but also become more mindful of all the unspoken experiences and difficult memories children may bring with them to class. In the end, it was a great learning experience for all!
Tancil Court Public Housing Children’s Garden in Old Town Alexandria
In 2010, Alice Reid, started the Tancil Court Public Housing Children’s Garden as an intern project. Alice Rogalski, EMG, joined her in 2015. For twelve years, from March to October 2010-2022, the gardeners worked with children from ages four to ten once a week.
Many additional Extension Master Gardeners helped along the way. The garden also received support from enthusiastic volunteers through Volunteer Alexandria.
The purpose of the garden was to show the children how to grow food through spring, summer, and fall, from planting, to watering and weeding, to harvesting and enjoying the food. Children were taught seed germination, the parts of the plant, the process of pollination, how to compost, and the impact of bees and cicadas on gardens.
Photos © Alice Rogalski
To find out more about the past history of this program,
visit “I Can Shine Garden” at Tancil Court.
“We had a lot of fun with the children and it was gratifying to see the amazement on their faces as the plants grew, and how they were usually willing to try new foods. We tried to coordinate the snacks with what was being grown or talked about that week. One of the most fun projects was the children making pickles from cucumbers grown in the garden, then jarring them and taking them home.” Alice Rogalski
William Ramsey Elementary School
In the fall of 2021, Peter Ehmann-Jones, a fifth-grade teacher at William Ramsay Elementary School, obtained a grant from the National Audubon Society to create a native plant garden. His goal is to teach children about the importance of native plants and sustainable gardening practices, and the fun of digging in dirt. EMG Bob Besse collaborated with Peter on his garden design, and together with EMGs Charles Gardner and Mary Lou Leary, helped bring it to life. Bob continues to provide ongoing support for the project.
Success Stories: Arlington Programs
Barcroft Elementary School
EMGs Anne Reed, Debbie Keefe, Cindy Robertson and intern Sue Viswanatha are currently working with Barcroft Elementary School’s Environmental after-school program, comprised mainly of fourth and fifth graders. Anne Reed and Debbie Keefe began assisting this after-school club in 2021 and have been providing support twice a month since then for most of the school year. The club is led by Sue Spranger, Science Teacher, and Katherine Cicala, ESL Teacher.
EMGs Anne Reed and Debbie Keefe, former teachers, design a lesson plan and activity for the weeks that the EMGs are with the Environmental Club. The kids have access to several raised beds behind Barcroft’s playground. There they have learned how to clear weeds and conduct a soil test to ensure a future healthy crop of vegetables, flowers, and herbs. During the winter months, EMGs worked with the kids to construct and fill their own compost jars, sow winter crops to improve the garden soil, and plant seeds in mini greenhouses of milk jugs. Each session with the kids begins with a lesson followed by an activity designed to allow the kids to put into practice what they just learned.
This project has been enjoyed enormously by the EMGs, teachers, and children in the Environmental Club. The EMGs are greeted by hugs and cheers from the kids each time they arrive, and everyone finds the time passes too quickly!
Photos © Debbie Keefe, Anne Reed, Cindy Robertson
Carlin Springs Elementary School
From April to June 2022, 16 students at Carlin Springs School participated in two weekly after-school garden clubs. One was part of the school’s club program and the other was an extended-day activity. Each were held back-to-back for eight kids and led by master gardeners Nancy M. Davis, Valerie LaTortue, intern Richard Derbyshire and master naturalist Kathy Reeder. This year, the curriculum focused on building and then planting in three raised beds using the hügelkultur method that calls for laying sticks, leaves and mulch under the soil to generate nutrients and heat.
Nottingham Elementary School
Kristi Provasnik, EMG, and Elizabeth Gearin (EMG and Master Naturalist) offered gardening classes as an alternative recess for the school and gardened with students throughout the years. This program and others like it were a huge success and took place from 2009 to 2018.
Potomac Overlook Regional Park
Come visit the meditative native garden here, developed by a Girl Scout in obtaining her Gold award, who just happens to be EMG Kristi Provasnik’s daughter. Many parks in Arlington and Alexandria are the fortunate recipients of scouting projects – we are happy to provide ideas for those interested.
Trinity Presbyterian Preschool Class Gardens
From 2014 to the present time, Kristi Provasnik, has been gardening with students at Trinity Presbyterian Preschool. She is teaching monthly science lessons and organizing class gardens, which she plants with the children.
As a Girl Scout Troop Leader, Kristi also supervised a project to build a terraced garden to minimize water and silt runoff on a steep slope at Trinity. Many in the troop, including her daughter, received a Girl Scout Silver Award by completing this valuable and eco-friendly project.
“It’s always rewarding to see young kids eagerly tasting the vegetables they grow and be delighted spotting all forms of wildlife.” Kristi Provasnik
Washington-Liberty Victory Garden Club
The Club meets weekly on Mondays after school, usually meeting first with their teacher sponsor, and then heading outside for hands-on activities. These activities have included: garden cleanup; cover crop and winter vegetable planting; designing, planning and building a second raised garden bed; installing a storage bench; securing a second rain barrel; fundraising at the holiday bazaar for the club; networking with other student clubs to maximize involvement and cooperation; design, planning, and writing memos and proposals to support the expansion of the Club’s efforts to include a second garden site.
EMG support includes troubleshooting various gardening and site challenges, such as the removal of some invasive plants and solving some erosion issues adjacent to the raised bed. Education topics have included soil health; climate change; working effectively with school administrators; fundraising; and innovative small-space gardening strategies, including vertical gardening. Volunteers with the club include EMG Elizabeth Collaton, EMG Anne Braghetta, and VCE Extension Agent Kirsten Conrad, and FOUA member David Sachs.