Thursday, March 24, 2011

Growing Communities at Schoolyard Gardens

Stroll up to the garden at Arlington Traditional School (ATS) and you’ll find lots of things growing (especially now that spring is here!): herbs and daffodils inside the white picket fence of the Colonial garden, cold-hardy crops like broccoli and cabbage in the vegetable patch, river birches surrounded by boulders in the mountain area, perennials getting ready to flower in the pollinator garden, and a young tupelo tree planted in celebration of Earth Day 2010.

If you come on a day when CVN volunteers are working in the garden, you’ll notice another kind of growth as well: relationships sprouting between the parents and students of ATS and the 20- and 30-something volunteers who typically don’t have school-age kids of their own. These monthly work days not only provide an opportunity to get outside and collaborate with a group, they also offer an avenue for the “non-parent” set to connect with one of the richest sources of community in Arlington: our schools.

As much as I’ve enjoyed watching the evolution of the ATS garden over the past year as the volunteers I’ve been leading have contributed to the highly visible transformation of the space, I have embraced even more the chance to be part of a network and a mission much bigger than me. I’ve heard many parents say that having kids in school brought them a sense of community. My thought has been, how can we expand that beyond parents? How can we build on the already central role of schools in the community and create ways for people of all ages and family types to collaborate around the education of our youngest neighbors?

My service at ATS and the personal and collective relationships I have developed there have expanded my sense of citizenship and deepened my connection to the Arlington community. I realized just how much the ATS garden has come to mean to me when someone told me they’d seen a presentation about an amazingly complex schoolyard habitat with river birches and boulders and a tupelo tree. “That’s my school!” I blurted out. And when I started to correct myself and explain the situation, I thought, I’m not a student or parent or teacher, but maybe it really can be my school.

I invite everyone to come lend a hand at one of our garden work days and see if you can find a school to be yours, too! CVN groups volunteer at Arlington Traditional School on the second Sunday of each month (the next day is
April 10, 1-3 p.m.) and at Tuckahoe School on the fourth Sunday of each month (the next day is March 27, 2-4 p.m.). Learn more through our Yahoo group or contact me at or 571-246-3574.

Brynn G. Slate, ATS Garden Group Leader
Recurring Volunteering Committee

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