EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 11, 2013

Garden of Learning

Empty courtyard has grown into school-wide project

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — PLAISTOW — In 2011, Patti Mangini walked through the empty courtyard in the middle of Timberlane Regional High School and had a vision.

“I thought we could turn this into a pretty group of gardens,” said Mangini, the executive administrative assistant at Timberlane, “something everyone could help out with.”

Three years later, that vision has become a reality. Timberlane students have created several different gardens and have turned an eyesore into a learning tool.

“It’s great to see what it’s become,” senior Jake Hamblen said. “A year and a half ago, it was nothing. Just imagine a barren nothingness springing into sunflowers and perennials. It gives me a tremendous feeling of satisfaction.”

Hamblen worked on the gardens in Meghin Marley’s botany class last year. Marley’s students maintain a small greenhouse, a perennial garden and grow cold crops such as spinach and broccoli in raised beds.

This is the second year Marley has been teaching botany. In the fall, students plant cold crops in September and then harvest in the November. In the spring, they plant in March and are able to use the greenhouse.

“Everything is tied directly into my curriculum,” Marley said. “But we also have a lot of other departments which help us out as well.”

Special needs students planted seeds. Woodshop students built a shed to store equipment in. AP Art students painted pots to grow crops in.

“What’s so poignant about this whole project is that you are taking kids in an academic course setting and they are using real life applications to what they are learning in class,” assistant principal Maria DiNora said.

But it wasn’t all easy for the students.

“It was very daunting at first,” Hamblen said. “It was a lot of responsibility when we learned how hard that we had to work to make it what it is.”

Yesterday, Harry Shields, 18, was out in the garden doing one of this school year’s first tasks.

“We removed the tops of the dead flowers and kept the seeds, so we could plant them next year,” Shields said.

The garden also received some help from outside the community. The school received a grant from University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, which tested the soil. The Atkinson Garden Club designed and planned the butterfly garden, as well as donating plants and mulch.

“We had a lot of community support for the program, which was awesome,” Marley said. “Everyone was so excited to get involved.”

The school also received donations from local businesses.

Last year, the group sold the crops to the faculty. This year, however, they have bigger plans.

“We’ve made arrangements with our food service to use it in the lunch program,” DiNola said. “We also want to get our marketing students involved and possibly sell them at the Atkinson Farmers Market.”