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Student plants seed in community for future garden plan
West Hills STEM Academy Principal Lisa Heaman has been wanting a garden at her school for some time now.
In fact, every time she visits Naval Avenue Early Learning Center, students always tell her the one thing they most love most about school is the garden. They tell Heaman how much they would love to have one at their next school — her school.
“There’s a lot of pride in their garden,” she said.
So when a full proposal for a garden ended up in her school mailbox, Heaman at first thought it was a joke. The proposal, several pages long, came from sixth-grader at her school who had a big vision for the grounds surrounding the building.
“The type of project I am proposing is a community garden built on the West Hills STEM Academy campus,” wrote Abbie Potter in the opening sentence of her proposal.
It was a visit to Marysville Master Garden that inspired Potter to start planning a garden for her own school grounds. That, and spending time gardening with her grandfather learning the tricks of the trade when it comes to providing food for the dinner table.
She wrote the proposal over Christmas break, finalized it in January, and then dropped it off to her teacher who in turn pushed it into Heaman’s inbox.
“If there were no gardens, there wouldn’t be any fresh produce,” said Potter of one of her many reasons for wanting to start a garden. “It’d just be junk food and McDonald’s.”
Heaman was so impressed by Potter’s proposal — which included photo examples of gardening techniques — that she asked Potter to present to the Bremerton School District’s Board of Education.
Last week, without blinking an eye, Potter presented to the board her plans for funding, volunteer support and even potential gardeners who would take over during the summer months when school is out.
The sixth-grader also shared her survey results from teachers who would be interested in getting involved.
Of teachers surveyed, 92 percent said they would be interested in having a garden. Only 69 percent, however, thought they would incorporate gardening into their curriculum.
In her presentation, she noted it would be a “social connection” within the community, would improve the local environment, and it would provide nutritional food for families at the school. Potter also highlighted the fact that the garden would provide an opportunity for after-school programs and could also act as a supplement for the local food bank.
While the school board won’t give any funds, they do have connections, Heaman said. It’s those connections that she and Potter hope will lead to funding, more volunteers and a community interest in starting and up-keeping a garden.
“I always say yes to pretty much everything. I think great things happen when you say yes,” said Heaman. “Positivity breeds positivity. I had no doubt Abbie would do a good job.”
And when the sixth grader plans, she plans big. Even outside her garden proposal, she’s planning away at her future, nailing down her life’s blueprints one step at a time, her mother, Leah Potter said.
Once she’s in high school, she’ll take on college courses in the Running Start program. For right now, she thinks her future will be in engineering and graphic design, her mom said. Potter’s also working toward getting her black belt in karate.
According to Heaman, the perfect spot for a garden is where a portable currently sits. Due to lack of district funding, the portable removal will not happen until next summer when a new wing of the school will be built.
Once the wing is built, the space for a garden will open up.
That won’t be until Potter’s eighth-grade year. Although her dream of starting a garden is far away, she has plenty of time to gather the support and funding she will need to plant the seeds into the community about her idea.
From here on out, Potter will work with two teachers at the school who are also involved in an Outdoor Learning Center (OLC) group, which allows students to get involved with “age-appropriate service learning projects,” states the Bremerton School District’s website. Potter is currently networking in the community with those she connects with through her teachers and on her own, including WSU Master Gardeners.
She’s already planning speaking engagements and more phone calls to Rotary clubs and WSU gardeners.
“It’s so exciting. She just knocked my socks off,” said West Hills STEM Academy teacher Hannah Meucci.
Meucci, along with teacher Andrew Nelson, will work with Potter as she moves forward with her gardening plans. The two educators are OLC supervisors who were what Heaman calls the “obvious cheerleaders” for the project.
While the garden idea is still in its early stages, that doesn’t keep the supervisors from being enthused about the idea brought on by a sixth-grader.
Nelson said that other garden ideas in the past had gotten “tangled” but was glad to see Potter’s vision laid out in black-and-white.
“Being a STEM school, we’re all about hands-on,” he said. “When a student comes to you with a well-researched idea and plan, that’s like a touchdown.”