Community gathers, decorates new raised beds and garden plot at Gervais Elementary School

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - Students and community members painted colored hand prints on the walls at Gervais Elementary School on June 26, decorating a new garden space that will be completed before the start of the 2019-20 school year.The empty space on the west side of Gervais Elementary School is getting a summer makeover.

In place of the sunbaked grass in-between the school's primary structure and its ancillary classrooms on the far side of campus, a new garden has been taking root over the course of June. But what is a school garden without a bit of decorative flair?

On Wednesday, June 26, community members gathered at the site of the new school garden beds to plaster the two white walls surrounding the space with a rainbow of multi-colored hand prints, creating a makeshift mural to help bring a warm and festive atmosphere to the growing plot.

"It's coming together, but it's kind of an undefined space that we'll use to serve our kids as best as we can," Gervais Elementary School Principal Dr. Creighton Helms said. "I'm really excited."

The garden is coming about due to a $2,000 grant from the Whole Kids Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides school children with hands-on education about food and gardening by helping schools turn unused outdoor spaces into garden plots.

The grant was used to purchase the initial barkdust load to create the space for the new area, as well as buy the paints and equipment for the hand prints. The Gervais High School woodshop built six new planter boxes — one for each grade at GES — that were painted by Helms.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - The high school wood shop provided six raised garden beds, one for each grade at Gervais Elementary School. The beds will be planted with gourds over the summer, which will ripen in time for fall classes.The GES principal also got the ball rolling on the surrounding artwork by painting a group of sunflowers on the southern wall of the garden, along with a stenciled message stating "Kindness Grows Here."

Helms admits his artistic skills are relatively unrefined, which is entirely the point. He wanted to show students that the imperfections that come out of amateur art is, in fact, art itself, and that anyone can pick up a paint brush and do it.

"When a kid comes to me and says I'm not an artist, I'm not a musician — well, neither am I, but if you take the time and give it a shot, you actually are," he said. "You don't have to be an artist to be an artist."

Granted, the paint brushes were only used to apply color to the students' hands. Dozens of children took part in the initial painting party, bolstered in part by the nearby Cougar Hoop Camp, which released its morning participants a half hour prior.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - The garden space was funded by a $2,000 grant from the Whole Kids Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to turn unused school spaces into educational garden plots.Handprints of various sizes and colors spackled the two walls, transforming the bland white space into a kaleidoscope of colors as the space continues to take shape. Over the course of the summer, the rest of the grant will be used to further outfit the space, filling the raised beds with planting soil, purchasing a pergola and encapsulating the area with a white picket fence.

Further enhancements with existing resources with be added. A large unused wooden planter will house a new fruit tree, providing additional shade to the area, and the high school metal shop will supply reading benches to give students a place to relax as-needed during the school day or at recess. The idea is to use the space both for educational purposes and for those students who would normally spend time at the office for breaks during the day.

PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - The garden plots will be used both as an educational space for students to learn more about agriculture and nutrition, and as a place for kids to relax, read and decompress during the day and at recess."We've got kids who, if they need 10 minutes outside of the classroom, if they need to decompress, sometimes bringing them to the office doesn't help," Helms said. "But if they can come out here for 10 minutes and water the garden or pull some weeds with me or something like, that helps them come back to center and be ready to go back to their room."

The inaugural garden will be finished sometime before the beginning of the 2019-20 school year and planted with a variety of gourds and fall crops that students can tend to throughout the first term.

"By October, they should be ready and the Kindergarteners can come out and pick their own pumpkin gourd to take back to the classroom," Helms said.

Over time, Helms is hoping that the garden becomes somewhat self-sufficient, with each of the nine K-2 classrooms splitting garden duties on a rotating basis, coming outside to get out of the classroom and receive introductory education on agriculture and nutrition, as well as doing a bit of community service to the school in maintaining the space. From there, the school can work on using the space for additional educational opportunities, wherever they may be.

"I would love to be able to partner with the ag kids from the high school with our K-2 kids over here, have them come over and teach them about upkeep and gardening practices," Helms said.PMG PHOTO: PHIL HAWKINS - The grant money provided barkdust, soil, paint, fencing and a pergola, while Gervais High School students built the raised beds and will supply reading benches to fill out the space.

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