AURORA | Thumbs at Sixth Avenue Elementary school will be greener this spring thanks to a new grant providing the school with a new community garden and related curricular materials.
Announced Feb. 29, The Nature Conservancy — a Virginia-based nonprofit organization focused on land and water conservation — awarded the elementary school $2,500 for the construction of a community garden in the southwest corner of the school’s campus.
“Building gardens gives students, teachers and community volunteers the opportunity to take action to address environmental issues that affect them right in their own neighborhoods,” Brigitte Griswold, director of youth engagement programs for The Nature Conservancy, said in a statement.
Sixth Avenue and McAuliffe International School in Denver were the only two schools in the state to receive garden grants for this school year through the Nature Conservancy’s Nature Works Everywhere program, an initiative that helps establish gardens at low-income schools across the country. The Walt Disney Company and home improvement store Lowe’s helped the Nature Conservancy award 50 grants ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 this school year.
Efforts to build a garden at Sixth Avenue began about a year ago when Chris Carhart, a physical education teacher at the school, met with representatives from Denver Urban Gardens to determine applicable grants and details regarding a potential budget.
“Our main focus for the garden itself is to bring the community together,” Carhart said. “We’re a Title I school with a lot of needs, and the transiency rate is really high, so we felt that this would be a good anchor for the community. The garden will be a great avenue to show the students the care it takes to put something in the ground and the work it takes to see that come to fruition.”
In addition to a new composting operation at the school, the new garden will consist of 24 plots that are each 10 feet by 12 feet in size. Carhart said that the plots will be assigned to various classes at the school, but that the majority of the areas will be granted to nearby community members for free on a first-come, first-served basis.
“Hopefully, it will be a good way to get community members to the school who may really want to help out, but may not want to help with say literacy or math,” he said. “We feel that this is a really good way to do that and to make the neighborhood more beautiful.”
Carhart said that community members will be able to “adopt” individual garden plots and get more information at community meetings this spring and summer.
Ideally, the garden at Sixth Avenue will also be able to yield food that could be served in the school’s cafeteria, mirroring the “garden to cafe” program at nearby North Middle School, which is where Carhart started his career with Aurora Public Schools.
“Our goal is not necessarily to feed 550 kids, but to supplement nutrition at the school,” he said. “Students will know that they’re eating tomatoes or cucumbers that we grew in our garden and we feel that will really encourage them to dive into those and eat more of them.”
Despite an estimated price tag of about $25,000, Carhart said that the garden at Sixth Avenue is nearly fully funded thanks to another recently received grant from a large corporation. The application for that grant was coordinated by a consortium of other APS educators, including those from Lyn Knoll Elementary School, East Middle School, Aurora Quest K-8 and Vista PEAK.
Carhart said that the school plans to break ground on the garden before the end of the current school year on May 26.