Ashley Falls students design new school garden

Ashley Falls Elementary School sixth graders played a big role in designing a new school garden, learning about working with a limited budget and using real world math to calculate the costs, geometry to determine the volume of the beds to purchase soil and sharpening their number sense working with percentages.

The garden challenge was designed by teachers Caitlin Williams, Melissa Davis and Traci Zuckerman to not only bring the school garden back to life but create a hands-on learning experience for students.

The student-led team presented their project to the Del Mar Union School District (DMUSD) board on Feb. 15.

When Ashley Falls opened, a garden was included on campus and some things have been planted over the years but there has never truly been student interaction with it, according to Williams who has been at the school all 19 years. Williams made a request to the PTA last year to improve the garden and received $4,000 to work with.

Instead of the teachers coming up with something to do with the garden, Williams said they decided to present the challenge to the sixth graders so they would have some ownership over the garden.

“Their task was to create the most space-efficient, cost-effective, appealing garden that would actually be built this year,” Williams said.

The kids were given a budget of $2,000 and were tasked with designing a garden map which designated locations of required elements of garden beds, compost bins, a shed, water attachment and a hose. Students had to find the volume of each garden bed to decide how much soil to buy and then had the freedom to add any creative touches with the extra money.

The students in each sixth grade class worked in groups of two to three to design garden ideas and then each class voted on the top designs. The teachers picked Jenny Hu and Sara Sigal as the winners, however, they worked to collaborate with fellow students to include other ideas. A leadership team of “Garden Greats” included Shai Davis, Kate Endres, Claudia Arriaga, Maura Rissman, Elissa Beruti-Bosze, Ameya Barve, Isaac Schrage, Mailee Phan and Kylie Cava.

In their planning, the students determined that they needed 80 bags of organic soil to fill the 12 garden beds, even finding a better deal on the bags of soil that Williams had recommended. In their design, they were able to include a fountain, eight key tiles representing the eight keys of excellence taught in the school, eight quote signs, a welcome stone, archways, five animal statues, two bird feeders and four rain boots signed by the sixth graders.

The Garden Greats stayed under budget, using $1,956.78 of the $2,000.

“I think we could use some of you in our budget department,” DMUSD President Doug Rafner joked.

The next steps will be organizing a community work day to clear out of the old garden and build the new design. The work day has yet to be scheduled.