Baker Montessori School students use garden to learn real-world science lessons

On sunny weekends, parents and students gather in the Baker Montessori School garden where they pull on gloves and grab rakes and trowels to remove weeds and leaves from the musky soil.

The students at Baker — formerly called Wilson Montessori School — are learning to grow fragrant flowering herbs and study their uses. Once the flowers bloom, students will cut some of the plants and infuse them in oil or dry them to make spices or teas.

“We schedule garden workdays to prepare the soil and build, for example, an herbal spiral,” Co-Teacher Simone Roemhild said.

Gardening as a learning method began 10 years ago when the school’s parent-teacher organization partnered with Urban Harvest to begin a seed-to-plate project.

The educational influence advanced in 2019, after the school’s construction and renovation project was completed. Part of the 2012 Bond Program, the new campus allowed for a new three-story addition, as well as a community learning space, gym, two-level library, large windows and expanded green areas designed to support fruit trees, dedicated gardening areas, and a large chicken run.

Now a fixture at the campus, eager fourth, fifth and sixth graders often look forward to hosting garden tours for younger students as part of a multi-age classroom concept that allows the students to mentor each other.

Back in the garden, younger students discussed life cycles of the radishes, cucumbers, and leafy green plants growing tall. Others giggled and winced when picking up composting milk crates emitting the pungent odor that is a part of decomposition.

Armed with garden hoses, older students watered the beds as they chatted with teachers about how certain vegetables are thriving by planting them in the same space – a technique called companion planting.

“The beans climb the corn, and the squash acts as protective ground cover against insects,” Roemhild said to the students. “Native Americans practiced this for generations.”

There are also plant projects involving students who are learning from home.

“Our virtual learners recently participated in garden activities by raising microgreen seedlings at home,” Principal Shameika Sykes-Salvador said. “Their plants along with those of the in-person learners were a part of our campus sales event.”

The sale, she said, raised nearly $800 that will directly benefit future garden projects, upkeep, and planned soil preparation sessions.

Whether learning from home or in-person, every aspect of the garden and plant life cycle spurs learning.

“If we discover mushrooms growing or unfamiliar insects on the plants, the students’ passion to learn always starts a discussion,” Roemhild said.