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December 2, 2023

Taking the classroom into the garden

Rotary Club gives school’s garden a boost
by BERT WILLIAMS – Staff Writer
With the help of the Windsor Rotary Club, teachers at Windsor
Creek Elementary School are revamping the school’s science
curriculum. The focus of the new program is the school garden,
which can now be found nearly everywhere on campus.
Each of Windsor Creek’s 26 second and third grade classrooms
have had their own garden boxes in past years, but beginning last
spring the emphasis shifted to a school-wide community garden.
According to second grade teacher Cathy Ernst, who heads up the
program, adult volunteers began digging trenches, installing
sprinkler systems, and bringing in more than 25 yards of newly
donated soil and compost in April, 2002. Parent Alec Gidding
volunteered many hours, as well as his backhoe, to get the project
moving, Ernst said.
The garden is more an interesting diversion from the serious
business of school work. “We are developing this curriculum to go
along with the state standards,” said Ernst, noting that the garden
offers innovative ways to accomplish a wide range of academic
objectives in the primary grades.
Dubbed “A Garden For All Seasons,” the program proposes to make
the entire campus “a functional living laboratory.” Units of study
in science and other parts of the curriculum are being built around
nature’s annual cycles as seen in the garden.
Students have studied the life cycle and other natural cycles
through observing monarch butterflies, lady bugs and other insects.
They have practiced research skills involving math and graphing
techniques. They have learned new vocabulary words such as
“deciduous,” “transplant” and “perennial.”
Students have created art projects using leaves, studied earth
science as they worked with different types of garden dirt, written
stories about the garden, and learned about principles of nutrition
as they prepared and ate the food that was produced through their
Students are clearly enjoying the new garden emphasis at Windsor
“I like getting dirty,” said second-grader Austin Smith.
“I like to see the bugs, how they move and stuff,” said Tahira
Garcia, also in second grade.
“The whole campus will become a living laboratory for our
science classes,” said Ernst. The solar system is just about the
only scientific concept in the second and third grade curriculum
that cannot be addressed directly through the garden. “This (the
garden) will be our curriculum for the whole year,” Ernst said.
The Rotary Club’s involvement began last summer. They advertised
in August that they were seeking proposals for a new
Rotary-sponsored community project. Ernst responded with the
proposal for a new Windsor Creek Elementary School greenhouse.
Tom Hassur, chairman of the Rotary Club’s major projects
committee, said that the club received many responses to its ad.
After a careful selection process the Rotarians decided to raise
$25,000 to purchase, erect and equip a large greenhouse for Windsor
Creek’s garden program.
The Rotarians especially liked the fact that the project will
involve many community resources, and people of all ages. Students
in Windsor High School’s Culinary Department will be involved.
Retirees from the Senior Center have made commitments to help. “It
has the potential,” said Hassur, “to tie in so many facets of the
Windsor Creek’s principal, Maureen Grafeld, said she was shocked
by the Rotary Club’s largess. “I’ve never been on the receiving end
of a grant this large,” she said. “To see this happening with an
elementary school is pretty exciting. We need to be worthy of what
they’re giving us.”
When the garden program was first starting, Grafeld wondered
whether time could be found to incorporate it into the demanding
state-mandated curriculum. But, she said, “The teachers have been
extremely creative” in incorporating the garden into the school’s
curriculum. She said all of Windsor Creek’s teachers are strongly
committed to the program.
“It’s amazing what a garden can do for you,” said Grafeld. “It
makes kids smile, it makes the campus prettier.” She said it has
noticeably heightened respect for the campus among Windsor Creek’s
The garden project has garnered extensive community support.
Donations have come from nearly 30 businesses including Aaction
Rents, Garrett Ace Hardware, Healdsburg Nursery, SBM Landscaping,
Shamrock Nursery, Tim Oxford Construction, Wal-Mart, Windsor
Landscaping and Yardbirds.
The program continues to depend strongly on parent volunteers as
well. Families including Borland, Carpenter, Del Greco, Ernst,
Gidding, Gobert, Howard, Jacobs, Johnson, Oxford and Raborn have
donated hundreds of hours, Ernst said. Grafeld said she has been
amazed by the creative parents who spend hours helping with the
“Every time we find a roadblock,” Grafeld said, “we find people
who help us overcome it.”
Non-profit organizations have made notable contributions to the
garden. Circuit Rider Productions has served in a consulting role
and has donated compost.
Last summer, two Windsor Creek teachers and two parents attended
a week-long course on school gardening at the Occidental Arts and
Ecology Center. “Their training is wonderful,” said Ernst. “There
were so many ideas. … We decided we needed a hundred acres!” OAEC
continues to serve in a consulting role as the garden program
Beginning in March the Master Gardeners of Sonoma County, aided
by funds from Sonoma State University, will lead Windsor Creek
students in an experience with vermiculture — creating compost
using live worms and food waste from school lunches.
Ernst said that the new greenhouse will be a critical part of
the developing program. Currently, gardening during the school day
is subject to weather conditions. “Once we get the greenhouse,
it’ll be year round,” said Ernst. “We’ll just say, ‘Gardening is in
the greenhouse this week.'”
The Rotary Club expects to raise much of the money for the
project at its Cioppino Fest in March. According to Hassur the
event will include a good meal, silent and live auctions of goods
and services donated by the community, and a dance. The event is
slated for Our Lady of Guadalupe Church’s Mary Agatha Furth Center
on the evening of March 8.
Windsor Creek’s teachers and students plan to do some of their
own fundraising for the garden program. In April they will have a
plant sale that will include flowering perennials and vegetables.
Some will be plants the students have raised, other plants will
come from Sonoma County Jail industries.
The Windsor Creek teachers plan to develop an outdoor cooking
facility so that students can experience the full food cycle from
planting to growing to harvesting to eating. Ernst said that
recently, with the help of a bottle of ranch dressing, students
were actually enjoying the experience of eating their
It is expected that the greenhouse will be erected this spring.
For more information about the Rotary Club’s fundraising effort
phone Tom Hassur at 838-3325 or go to www.windsorrotary.org. To
learn more about Windsor Creek Elementary School’s garden program
phone Cathy Ernst at 837-7757.


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