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Galax Elementary plants 'Grateful Garden

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

Galax Elementary educators felt grateful for a recent warm December day to get an early start on their new teaching garden.
Many of the participating students wore jackets while helping dig out the first shovelful of dirt in “The Grateful Garden of Galax” behind the school, even though the temperature seemed to hover around the 60s.

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The children cheered as Virginia Department of Forestry’s Zach Olinger and Chad Austin pulled up to the grassy lot with donated trees ready to plant.
Many of the students got a turn at handling the shovels to plant the apple and pear trees for the orchard, and native pawpaw and serviceberry.
Some squealed at worms they found as special education teacher and garden coordinator Nicole North explained that the creatures make good soil for trees and vegetables to grow in.
She also discussed pollination and the difference between the orchard’s apple trees and the pear. While nature usually requires a bee to land on a flower on one tree and take pollen to another to complete the process of creating fruit, the pear tree will be self-pollinating, North explained.
Teachers foresee growth in the learning opportunities for children as the garden and orchard becomes available for inquisitive and hands-on lessons across the curriculum, North said. Students can also become more aware about nutrition when growing their own produce.
Where there was wasted ground behind the parking lot down to a drainage ditch across the property, North pictures an orchard, 13 raised beds for produce, a classroom pavilion and picnic tables, depending on grants and finances.
“We have this empty parcel of land, why not use it? Why not use it for good?” she said.
These grounds could make history lessons more fertile by giving children a chance to grow the same foods that the Virginia colonists did when they landed on these shores.
From the pavilion, students could have a sheltered area to look at the grounds to learn about plants, flowers, germination or to look at the sky to learn about the stars.
It could become a great place for English classes to get into books by influential thinkers about nature. She also wants to get the art classes involved by painting murals there.
All these aspects of the garden should help integrate and expand on Standards of Learning goals in the classroom.
Beyond the education component, North hopes that fruit from the orchard and vegetables from the raised beds can go to children who are on free and reduced lunch and participate in nutrition program Backpack Buddies. Any extra could go to a soup kitchen.
The gardens will continue to be active even when school’s out in summer as the Galax Recreation Center will provide hands to help at those times.
Educators feel grateful for this new way for students to learn and for the students themselves, North said.
“We are grateful to have such a supportive city council and school board, which keep us on our feet and help to grow every year,” according to the garden blog at www.gcpgarden.wordpress.com. “Most of all we are grateful to have a wonderful community, which takes their time to volunteer and make our schools such an amazing place to learn.”
“We’re just grateful and excited for the opportunity to give back,” North said.