For Stephanie Baker, founder of Ready to Grow Gardens, a community program that started as a volunteer requirement to earn her Master Gardening certification led to a full-time job.
In 2002, the stay-at-home mother of two was volunteering nearly every day at Sheridan Elementary School on gardening projects. Along with the school’s principal and the district’s science resource center, she developed a curriculum for elementary students.
Since getting her start in Cy-Fair ISD, Baker has expanded the program to Spring Branch and Montgomery ISDs as well as three private preschools. She said she is looking to expand to Tomball and Klein ISDs in the near future.
“Every school we work with has two elements: a vegetable garden to grow food and a butterfly garden to observe habitats,” Baker said. “[They see] the seasons change, planting the seeds, caring for them, harvesting them and enjoying them.”
PTO groups and Title I funds support the program, and local businesses can sponsor schools as well.
Schools decide which grade levels participate in the program, and Baker’s team of five educators teaches lessons that reinforce what students learn in the classroom. Ready to Grow visits each school about once a month and maintains the gardens in between visits.
At least half of the time Baker has with students is dedicated to hands-on activity and observation. Students might add compost to the garden or tag monarch butterflies to track their migration patterns.
“Each lesson has a worksheet, and there’s always a place to write what they see, draw what they see and record the weather like a scientist would,” she said.
Not only does the science department benefit, but others can also use the space. For instance, language arts teachers can bring their students out to the gardens for creative writing assignments about nature.
School cafeterias also feature fresh fruits and vegetables from the gardens on the lunch menu. The program reinforces nutrition, team building, patience and an appreciation for nature, Baker said.
“We listen to what the teachers need and want to make it useful to each campus,” she said.