Tonasket School board hears garden proposal

TONASKET – A diverse group of community members, including Tonasket School District teachers, approached the Tonasket School Board at its Monday, May 14, board meeting with a proposal to plant and maintain a school garden.

The group’s proposal is modeled after a similar garden that the Methow Valley School District has working on its property.

Bob Ashmore, the school district’s GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs), coordinated the presentation, which included statements from Sandy Brightbill, Peter James, Danica Johnson, Rose Corso, Scotty Kimball and Tyler Graves.

“Gardening connects students in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math,” Ashmore said, citing a host of studies by Cornell University. “This is something that would be worked into the entire curriculum, not just an add-on.”

A film detailing the workings of the Methow garden showed how students of all ages and developmental skill levels were able to work in age-appropriate fashion on various aspects of the garden.

“The Methow garden has been eight years in the making,” Corso said. “The kids split into groups, move into the gardens and work on different things as appropriate. They are able to work things into the curriculum that are adjusted to the levels of the learners.”

Outgoing elementary principal Jeff Cravy recently wrote a grant that was approved, naming Green Okanogan’s Peter James as a partner to help with the school’s recycling efforts. James said that since the garden could utilize composting, that grant monies could be dedicated to it.

As to what to plant, Corso said that the Methow garden works closely with the school’s cafeteria.

“We would like to at least have the kids to have (vegetables) on the salad bar that they can choose from,” she said. “The kitchen staff knows the regulations and what to do as far as washing.”

Ashmore said that financially, the goal was to sustain the garden through grants and donations and not create a financial burden on the district.

Johnson had coordinated the completion of community surveys, many of them at school events, and had 147 of them completed by parents, staff, high school and junior high students.

“All of them indicated 100 percent support of the school having a learning garden,” she said. “I have a second grader and I’m willing to dedicate my own personal time into the garden to get it started. I think it’s important for our children in this area to put their hands in the dirt and connect with their history.”

Graves, the English as a Second Language teacher, said it would also be a positive way to draw the district’s diverse cultures together.

“The students and families that I serve as ESL teacher are mainly Hispanic families,” Graves said. “They have a lot to offer in a project like this. They are wise in the ways of growing food. I think this would be a great opportunity to invite Hispanic families to take part in this project. I think we have a lot to gain from each other.”

The committee’s proposal was to look into land that was previously used by the school for an orchard.

“What kind of commitment are you looking for from us right now?” asked board member Lloyd Caton.

“Most importantly we want a green light to begin gathering resources,” Ashmore said. “We already have about $700 that we could use to plant a cover crop. But our goal is have a self-sustaining garden that has no impact, other than good stuff, for the district.”

High school and middle school principals Jeff Hardesty and Jay Tyus indicated that they were supportive of the proposal.

Since the presentation was on the agenda as a work session and not an actionable item, there was no decision made on the project.

“I think we need a formal idea of ways to dig in, a time frame of what to look like,” said board chair Jerry Asmussen.

“I’m impressed with the diversity of this committee, their knowledge and background,” said superintendent Paul Turner. “Bringing all that in, as we go down the road, who knows where this thing will go? But that’s exciting to me.”

The school board indicated that it was willing to consider a formal proposal at a future date.

In other business, the board accepted the resignations of high school / middle school facilitator Keith Moeder, who accepted a position in Kansas, and Eva Saldana, who cited family reasons and said in her letter of resignation that she hopes to return at some point in the future.

The board also hired Roni Buchert to a 0.4 FTE speech / language therapist position, and approved contracts and release of reasonable assurance of future employment letters to certificated, classified adminstrative and supplemental / vocational staff.

The board next meets Tuesday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m., a day later than usual due to Monday’s Memorial Day holiday.