A few weeks ago while walking my daughter to school at Mission Viejo Elementary (MVE), I noticed a new addition to the playground area. A garden had sprouted! Of course I was excited to learn more about it and waltzed right in to the school's office to get the scoop. The office attendant directed me to the Gifted and Talented (GT) teacher, Ms. Shannon McQueen. Ms. McQueen was thrilled to participate in a short Q&A session to share with you, so let's get started.

Q. Ms. McQueen, please tell me a bit about yourself, and what you do at Mission Viejo Elementary.
A. I'm the GT teacher at MVE. This is my fourth year in this position, and I taught 4th grade at MV for 5 years before that. I am also the MVE garden committee coordinator for our inaugural year.

Q. How did the idea for this garden come about?
A. Gardening with kids is a passion of mine. I think it is so important for kids and adults to have a good connection with nature and the outside world. A school garden is such a fantastic way to merge science concepts and good ecological practices. Also, digging in the dirt is fun and everyone, regardless of age, gets excited when little sprouts shoot up through the soil. It's hands-on learning at its best.

Q. How did you take the idea in to a reality?
A. I took a grant writing class in summer 2011 and decided to write a garden grant for MVE for my final project. There were five wonderful women on my team, and we all wrote a section of the grant. We chose the Colorado Garden Show grant because it was one of the few local garden grants that would actually give us enough money to construct the type of garden I had in mind for MVE. We received $11,000 from the show. Here is a link for more info about the terrific nonprofit. We couldn't have done this without their help (http://www.gardeningcolorado.com/). 

Q. Who is involved in this exciting project?
A. We have a very supportive MVE garden committee that consists of teachers and parents. We met monthly last school year (January – May), and we will continue to meet monthly this school year as well. We discuss and vote on all aspects of the garden design, curriculum tie-ins, and how to spend our money.

Q. What are the next steps?
A. All grade levels had an opportunity to plant cool-weather veggies this autumn, and several of the crops have already started to grow. We have radishes, kale, carrots, lettuce, and pumpkins growing right now. Additionally, we would like to invite parents to come to the school to construct cold frames, so we can extend our growing season this autumn. MVE is also planning a day for parents and students to come to a jam and jelly class, as well as a canning class.   I am also working on another grant from the Colorado Garden Show, and if we receive more funding, we can complete the next phase of the garden design this spring or early summer. We would like to construct an outdoor classroom, add more beds, walkways, and even a greenhouse in the next phase.

Q. What will happen to the "fruits" or veggies of your labor?
A. It is my belief that students who grow plants will want to taste them, so all of the crops will be up for snacking. I am on the lookout for yummy recipes for radishes and kale so preschoolers and kindergarteners will want to taste their veggies. At this point we do not have the capacity to grow enough food to serve in the cafeteria, but that could be an idea for the future, once the garden "grows."

Q. What do you hope the children take away from this project?
A. The ultimate goal of this garden project is to encourage the entire MVE community to share in the wonders, joys, and nutrition of a healthy garden. We want to teach students about the science behind gardening, the nutritional benefits of eating fruits and veggies, and educate families as well. That's why MVE is committed to having events in and around the garden that include parents, students, and teachers all throughout the year.   

Thank you, Ms. McQueen, for your inspiring spirit. I wanted to share this story with the LiveWell Moms group because it's proof that there is change in the air. With more health conscious and forward-thinking teachers like Ms. McQueen, the sky is the limit to our children's nutritional learning and success!