Keeping our STEM Garden Growing with the PTO Fall Harvest Festival

Keeping our STEM Garden Growing with the PTO Fall Harvest Festival

(This article is re-posted from the Tri-District website, dated December 2, 2015)

This past October, Atlantic Highlands Elementary School (AHES) hosted the annual PTO Fall Harvest Festival, which was held to raise funds for the AHES Tiger Patch Learning Garden. “Several years ago, the PTO took the learning garden program under its wing. As our sole purpose is to support the students and teachers at Atlantic Highlands Elementary, it made sense for us to adopt this program and create a PTO Garden Committee – which is run by the garden co-founders. The learning garden is also its own 501c3 non-profit organization (GoSprouts.org) and is run completely by volunteers, many of whom are PTO members,” said Stacy Cannamella, AHES PTO co-president.

The event focused predominantly on staying healthy and having fun. Many local businesses participated and supported the event: Eastpointe Health + Fitness engaged kids in games and interactive fitness events while Shore Results served smoothies, Yoga University ran fun yoga sessions, the local Atlantic Highlands (AH) PBA participated in a Hoops Contest with the 6th grade students, AH Arts Council hosted a crafts table, and Bayshore Family Success held a pie eating contest. Students from Henry Hudson Regional School Key Club and the Lion’s Club Leos all volunteered their time to assist with games. “The middle and high school students who helped us run games today did an amazing job! They worked so hard, were incredibly diligent, and made the day so much fun for all the children. We are so thankful to have had their assistance; it really made the day amazing,” said Hope Hanlon, event organizer and garden program co-founder. “We have a tremendous community and we had so much help and donations: volunteers served food, ran games, and donated baked goods to sell. Traveling Tortillas donated proceeds of food sales as did Eastpointe Shore Results, Julian’s Bait & Tackle donated ice, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Super Foodtown of AH donated food, and The Henry Hudson PTO also donated their popcorn machine! The day was a great success for the Tiger Patch!”

Every year since 2011, the Tiger Patch Learning Garden has been used by all students at AHES, weather permitting. Even before school starts in September, teachers start asking when they can schedule classes in the garden and it’s used until Thanksgiving break; with the same thing happening when March rolls around. “We have had such great seasons out in the garden; teachers regularly use the space for everything under the sun – math, science, art, language arts – you name it, and the garden can be used to teach it in a unique, hands-on setting. Of course that doesn’t include the subliminal lessons that they’re learning, such as teamwork & collaboration, self-confidence, ownership, civic mindedness (food is donated to the Food Pantry) and the importance of failure and how it leads to success. The students all look forward to getting out to the garden and it’s routinely their favorite time of the week. But we couldn’t pull this off without the support of the teachers, administration, and most importantly – our parent volunteers who show up each week to lend helping hands to the teachers,” said Laurie Brekke, garden co-founder.

This year, the fundraiser is particularly important, as the Tiger Patch needs considerable work. Ten of the raised beds need to be replaced as well as the shed and supplies. Once the beds are rebuilt, they will also need additional soil. Chris Kurdes, a local contractor and parent at AHES, has offered to donate his time to rebuild the beds and shed for the Tiger Patch. Principal Janet Walling said of the event, “We are so lucky to have such supportive parents at AHES and such a strong PTO. They do so much for our school and put so much effort into every event they run, making it fun and exciting for the students. This year, the Fall Harvest Festival had a completely different theme and it tied in so nicely with the concept of the learning garden program.”

Other local sponsors included: Shannon Black Designs, JSA Play, Henry Hudson Tri-District Education Foundation, Face Painting by Miss Lisa and Jaspan’s Hardware. This year’s event raised $1500 for the Tiger Patch Learning Garden program, which includes profits from 50/50 ticket sales (winning proceeds were also donated back to the garden by Jack Archibald) and mum flower sales.