Almanac

Schools - September 16, 2009

New garden takes shape at Woodside High

by Dave Boyce

Back in the 19th century, kids on the prairie had more than a few experiences in common, including sub-zero winters, scorching summers, sitting together in a one-room schoolhouse, and acquiring a working familiarity with the shovel and garden hoe.

Now a common if tenuous thread connects those kids to some 56 sophomores in Woodside High School's Green Academy. No, it's not the weather. The sophomores are sitting together to study, more or less, and they're shoveling and hoeing in a garden.

Landscapers have leveled a secluded plot on the campus into three rectangular tiers, each with three 4-foot-by-30-foot raised beds of soil mixture. Soon to be seen there: broccoli, red cabbage, cauliflower, parsley, green onions, lettuce and radishes, according to Principal David Reilly and Academy teacher Josh Rubin in an interview at the garden.

The walls of the raised beds, built block by block by students in a bucket-like brigade, serve a convenient function as seats in what has become an outdoor classroom. That's a switch: a group of students breaking a sweat from physical work not related to athletics. How did they feel about that? It was a big deal, Vice Principal Diane Mazzei said.

The "ultimate goal" is to get the vegetables into students' homes and the notion into their heads that vegetables come from gardens, Mr. Rubin said. Sale of the vegetables may also help fund the Green Academy, whose state grant expires in three years, Ms. Mazzei noted.

Asked how the students reacted to being in the garden, Mr. Rubin said that they are "at peace. (It's the) difference between them in a classroom that is hot and stuffy and being able to come out here and have this wind."

The garden is only the beginning. If the school wins a state matching grant, the garden will migrate to the roof of a new and very green classroom building on the site.

Vegetation throughout the campus will gradually lose its non-native aspects as more and more natives replace them, Mr. Rubin said. Water and electricity use will be optimized as well.

"We want to make the campus as much of a (green) learning site as possible," he said.

Project donors of money, product discounts and/or time, school staff said, include the Grousbeck Family Foundation in Los Angeles, Lyngso Garden Materials in Redwood City, Integrity Block in Los Altos, Acterra and Palo Alto Hardware in Palo Alto, and Margaret MacNiven.

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