Fridays in the garden with North College Hill

Fridays are special for students at North College Hill Schools’ Trojan Way Learning Center. This is the day they get to work in the school garden.

Throughout the year, students learn everything from preparing and planting the garden beds to weeding, watering, harvesting, and cooking what they grow. They even put down manure, brought in by a North College Hill teacher who owns a horse.

On a Friday in May, we visited the garden and talked with students, staff, and Carla Belcher, the volunteer garden coordinator.

Here are some of the stories we heard about Fridays in the garden…

Teenage boy squatting next to raised garden bed, putting seeds on the ground.

Cedrick (CJ) Spencer is a 7th-grader who is very enthusiastic about the garden. He is out there working every Friday. Last year, he took home and cooked green peppers and turnips from the garden. He says the hardest work is weeding the garden beds.

This is the first year that Keasa Mays (10th grade), left, and Hailey Johnson (11th grade) have worked in the garden.

Two teen girls wearing gardening gloves standing next to garden bed.

Keasa likes it because it is a different experience, something she doesn’t get to do at home. She likes getting outside and is excited to plant the seeds and see them grow. Hailey has helped her mom grow vegetables. She likes being able to get outside during the school day.

Three adult women standing next to fence with raised garden beds in the background.

Trojan Way staff members say the garden has been a wonderful experience for students. They see the students getting along and working together in the garden, when in the classroom they might not interact with each other in the same way.

From left, Lori Ponder, Lara Wellbaum, Carla Belcher

Lara Wellbaum, intervention specialist, tells how the garden has impacted one student in particular. This autistic student would not usually talk to her classmates. In the garden, she started to work with them and eventually started to talk with them. It was an amazing thing to see how much she changed just from the experience of Fridays in the garden. Now she talks more and interacts with the others outside of the garden.

Lori Ponder, teacher, says Carla is a blessing to the school district. She is well-known and very well-respected. Everybody knows her name and everybody knows who she is.

Carla started the garden in 2019 with help from the district’s WeTHRIVE! team.

She was trying to create a curriculum for the garden when she learned about a training program with the Civic Garden Center. Carla writes about her experience below.

Group of adults standing and kneeling in front of a sign that says civic garden center green learning station.

Carla (top row, third from left) with her Growing Our Teachers cohort.

Growing Our Teachers is a school garden and farm-to-school professional development training offered by the Civic Garden Center. I was chosen to participate in a cohort (pictured at left) with 11 other educators from the greater Cincinnati area.

There were ten sessions throughout the school year that covered Garden Planning, Curriculum Connections, Nutrition Education, School Garden Tours, Creating Inclusive and Equitable Garden Programs, and Best Management Practices and Learning.

On the last day of the cohort in May, we presented the lesson plans we created and received our certificates. I am so excited to implement some of the ideas that were presented during the ten sessions. I will continue to keep in touch with everyone in my cohort and try to make a positive difference in the students’ lives.

–Carla Belcher

The North College Hill school garden’s biggest challenge is deer. On the day we visited, the deer had eaten all the flowers students had planned to take home for Mother’s Day. Carla is currently looking for funding to purchase fencing!

Find out more about WeTHRIVE! in North College Hill City Schools here.