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WE Collaborate: Springville K-8 and PCC Rock Creek Learning Garden

It's 9:00 a.m. on a Thursday in March and Ms. True's 5th grade class is making the short trek from Springville K-8 to PCC Rock Creek. Despite the gray skies and drizzle, you can hear the kids chattering and laughing before you can see them. AmeriCorps Service Member Blair Borax and Madeline Miller are waiting in the Learning Garden, wheelbarrows at the ready and filled with compost. Today, the students will be planting broccoli starts, working on the "lasagna bed" and planting radish seeds. "Through this partnership, we are able to explore shared values of experiential learning, community engagement and environmental stewardship," says Borax.

The weekly trips to the garden are a collaboration that began last year between Springville's 6th grade teachers and PCC. "We wanted our students to know about the opportunities that PCC offers and because our school is an Expeditionary Learning School, we wanted to find something that fit the goals of outdoors, long term and high quality. The PCC Learning Garden fit all three of those goals," says 6th grade Science teacher Brian Torres.

With the 6th grade temporarily housed at another campus this year, 5th grade teachers Margie True and Laura Doolittle stepped in to take over the program for the year. Their two classes trade off weeks visiting the garden.

"The AmeriCorps service members plan lessons to integrate into the unit of study that the kids are currently working on," says Doolittle. This year, the students completed a large unit around water. AmeriCorps volunteers visited the school, talking about water around the world and water in Portland. "They really made it come alive with how gardeners and farmers use water," says Doolittle.

The lessons learned at the garden and the collaboration have taken root in other parts of Springville as well. Earlier this year, the students harvested brussels sprouts. They worked with Joanne Lewis in the school's cafeteria to wash the veggies, prepare them and serve them to kindergarten students. "It takes having somebody who's supportive of the program to make it work. Joanne went out of her way and was more than happy to participate and to learn something new," says Doolittle.

Through the partnership, students have also had the opportunity to learn about beekeeping, veterinary care and other agriculture-related careers. Says Borax, "Through garden-based education, students not only learn about big picture concepts, but also gain practical life skills and hands-on experience."

Doolittle says it will be tough handing the program back when the 6th graders return to the Springville campus next year. "The kids truly enjoy going and getting their hands dirty."