David Skeet and Wingate Elementary Gardening Programs with FoodCorps, TaiChee


By Hanna Kherzai


VANDERWAGEN, N.M. - It was a sunny morning when Tai Silva and Valentina Chee drove me out to the school gardens, they’d both been cultivating for almost just as long. They both lit up as they talked about the initiatives they helped spearhead and the students they work with on the way to David Skeet Elementary, our first stop of the day.


Silva and Chee, FoodCorps members have been stationed with COPE for the past two years. In Gallup, Silva and Chee leveraged FoodCorps resources to create gardens at two elementary schools, David Skeet and Wingate, in Navajo Nation that acted as the basis for science programs at both schools.


This past year, Silva worked with David Skeet Elementary near Vanderwagen, N.M. When we arrived, we were met with David Skeet’s Principal, Laura Moore. She expressed Silva’s contribution and what it has meant to the school.

“David Skeet has been very fortunate. Tai came to us last year. The kids and the teachers have really enjoyed the reps that have come from Food Corps… [The garden] is a wonderful way for the students to participate and actually see that food just doesn't come from Walmart,” Moore said. “Being able to be hands-on and have that project is very beneficial for the students-- it's very relevant to their lives.”

Out around the back of the school, Silva showed us the garden, with a bed designated for each class to care for. When first introducing the garden, Silva worked with the fifth-grade class to help design the location. First, she had the students list the plants’ needs – so they went on a scavenger hunt to find the perfect spot with the right amount of sunlight, minimal wind, and access to water. Eventually, they decided on a plot of land we were currently standing on.


Silva then asked the students to write their questions about the garden down on slips of paper. Silva said, “One overwhelming thing that came through was questions around the money and how it was going to be possible. [All the students] were conscious about the infrastructure and who was going to have to be [taking care of] that”.


They worked together to make sure they were using reusable and locally sourced materials. Once the garden was built, the task of watering the garden was assigned to a different class each week. Silva assisted the teachers to integrate planting into their science lessons each week. Silva helped incorporate the lessons to fit the school’s science standards.


During one lesson, Tai brought in farmers from Candy Kitchen to teach the kids about the soil food-web. Each student was given a name tag with a specific microbe or nutrient to see how they would interact with each other.

“They totally respect the soil now!” Silva said about the lesson taught to the students.

After watering the lettuce and spinach, which Silva brought to work the following week – (Thanks, Tai!), we drove to Wingate Elementary. Chee has been working with their program similarly over the past two years. She works with one of their science teachers, Mrs. Willie, to improve the garden and help with lesson plans. Chee said the science classes were able to work in the garden during warmer months and study about nutrition during the winter.


“Wingate’s garden has been around for a little longer, about five years,” Mrs. Willie said.

Mrs. Willie told me about the different plants she had grown over the years and which she knew would fare better than others.

“This past May, Wingate was able to get their own greenhouse,” Mrs. Willie proudly boasted.

The kids were able to see it set up just before leaving for summer vacation. Mrs. Willie and Chee were both excited for the students to see the fruits and vegetablesof their labor when they came back for summer school.

Silva and Chee’s FoodCorps placement ended this past month. Thank you both for your time spent with us at COPE. Chee, we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors! And we are so excited to have you return to COPE, Silva, as our new Food System Coordinator!


Community Outreach & Patient Empowerment Program 

208 W Coal Ave. | Gallup, NM 87301

info@copeprogram.org
 

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