It Started as a Garden But Became a STEM

It Started as a Garden But Became a STEM

For Atlantic Highlands Elementary School (AHES), their learning garden program, launched in 2011 by GoSprouts.org (a 501c3 non-profit which was co-founded by two local parents, Laurie Brekke and Hope Hanlon), quickly became a favorite of the students. The Student Council even held a naming contest and the Tiger Patch Learning Garden, commonly called “the Tiger Patch”, became entrenched in their learnings. Now, almost 7 years later, garden time is coveted by everyone: parents, students, teachers and staff alike. It is used across all curricula – including the core STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math). “The list of projects and programs that GoSprouts.org and the learning garden have brought to the school gets longer every year and we always look forward to the innovative ideas it brings to our students!” says school principal, Mrs. Janet Walling.

For Brekke and Hanlon, a big catalyst in program ideas is their partnership with the Navesink Garden Club (NGC), who adopted

GoSprouts.org as one of their junior gardening programs in 2013. Most recently, the NGC approached GoSprouts.org to see if they could work with AHES students to submit “creations” in the Garden Club of NJ flower show. Mrs. Brekke and Mrs. Hanlon, who also sit on the board of the Navesink Garden Club, quickly saw that this project was a perfect opportunity as it marries art, engineering and creative problem solving. TIMG_1822hey then recruited art teacher, Ms. Caroline Northrop, to engage her 6th grade Challenge Art students to participate. The Navesink Garden Club sponsored the fourteen participating 6th-grade students and also provided some direction and guidance on their floral designs after the 6th graders created Lego “containers”. The students thought that the “creativity was amazing” and they enjoyed working in a “more abstract medium”. The students’ hard work paid off; they won 4 blue ribbons (1st place), 4 red ribbons (2nd Place), 4 white ribbons (3d place) and 2 Honorable Mentions.

“The Navesink Garden Club has been instrumental in helping us expand our reach within AHES in a number of ways. They introduced the American Littoral Society beach grass program to our 4th grade classes which we have continued to coordinate with science teacher, Mrs. Dana Bellantoni, for the past 4 years and this year, one of their members has procured a donation of organic seeds for our spring garden planting. It was this same NGC member, Mrs. Gotti Kelly, who encouraged us to submit our learning garden to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society 2016 Gardening & Greening Contest – where we won a coveted Blue Ribbon out of over 300 entries. These women are phenomenal and we would be lost without them!”, says Hope Hanlon. She went on to say, “Every season we look for unique seeds or varieties of plants that would be interesting or fun for the kids. Whether it’s sizes, colors, shapes – we change it up every season. The seeds that we are choosing this year (and Mrs. Kelly has obtained) will allow for the students to design & build structures and trellises to support their growth. We’re hoping to create a “STEM challenge” between the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th graders to see which structure can elicit the most crops. This is where education meets play and that’s where we definitely see our students thrive.”

GoSprouts.org is also working with technology teacher, Mrs. Patti Shea, to install a certified Monarch Waystation. The Navesink Garden Club has also recently installed a certified Monarch Waystation at the Monmouth Museum, providing another opportunity to partner with the school. Mrs. Shea hopes to take her students to see their installation and gather critical input from the NGC on how to make her students’ garden a success. Her goal is for the Waystation to not only teach students about the importance of Monarch butterflies but to also allow for more cross-curricular teaching across STEM subjects. “The potential for my students to use the Waystation is enormous. I’m working on a plan to have students do research and help provide input on a grant application. They could also track sunlight and other data to determine the best location for the Waystation. When we include the students in projects from end-to-end, it gives them a unique sense of ownership,” said Shea.

4th Grade Students Working with the American Littoral Society

4th Grade Students Working with the American Littoral Society

“The Tiger Patch resonates with our teachers as it helps cross boundaries from structured learning to more hands-on, self-directed activities. The students work individually or in teams, depending on the project, and the garden provides an opportunity for the students to strengthen their creative problem solving skills. They also have the added benefit of working in an engaging outdoor learning environment. This alternate location gives the students a chance to “re-set” if you will, and our teachers see the long-lasting benefits indoors. That’s something that few other schools can say,” said superintendent, Dr. Susan Compton.


The Tiger Patch continues to be run entirely by parent volunteers and financially supported through fundraising, plant sales, and PTO donation; there is no expense to the school or community. Schools both near and far have sought out the expertise of GoSprouts.org to help start their own learning garden programs and many continue to use the Tiger Patch as their garden model.




Laurie Brekke and Hope Hanlon, co-founders of GoSprouts.org, are board members of the Navesink Garden Club and Blue Ribbon winners of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) 2016 Gardening & Greening Contest for their children’s garden program and commitment to the community. They have also won two distinguished Junior Gardener awards from the Garden Club of NJ in recognition of their devotion & success to this program and have spoken at TEDxNavesink on the benefits of garden-based learning. They are mothers of young daughters and enjoy merging their previous corporate & personal skills and passions into these well-deserving programs for children.

Navesink Garden Club

The Navesink Garden Club provides its members with the knowledge, resources, and opportunities to promote a love of gardening, an appreciation of floral design, dedication to environmental protection, and a commitment to civic responsibility. These objectives are achieved through youth garden programs, community beautification projects, horticulture and design programs for seniors, an annual flower show, and an annual scholarship award. The Navesink Garden Club supports the objectives of National Garden Clubs, Inc., Central Atlantic Region and Garden Club of New Jersey, Inc.