New program brings gardening into the classroom

By Ross McIntyre, Special to The Packet & Times

I do not want to be the first one to say it, but it is inevitable. Summer is nearing an end and school is a mere two weeks away. For the kids and teenagers out there, I am sorry to break this news. For the parents, congratulations!

The educational landscape has changed significantly in the past 20 years. There has been a decline in programs many of us have grown up with, including home economics, shop and outdoor education — all of which would be considered experiential education courses. We have also seen the time and resources of teachers and administrative staff stretched thinner each year.

Overcoming those challenges is, most often, left up to the individual school’s administration, teachers and students. There are some excellent examples in our city of schools that are reaching beyond the books and connecting their students with the broader community in a meaningful way.

Through the collaborative efforts of many, the foundation is now set for a new pilot program that will be a part of the school year for three local schools.

Simcoe Sustainable Schools is a program for Grade 3 students that covers physical education, food and nutrition, social studies and even mathematics. These traditional subject areas are all centred on the school’s community garden. While this may seem odd to some, any gardener will immediately see the connections between these subjects and the process from planting to harvesting.

The schools involved in this pilot year are Regent Park Public School, Harriett Todd Public School and Lions Oval Public School in Orillia. Each school is now equipped with a garden and the multi-day program will take place as the seasons change throughout the upcoming school year. Sustainable Schools was a Couchiching Community Initiative program, now modified through a partnership with Orillia Community Gardens and several dedicated volunteers who have emerged from discussions at Orillia’s Food Council meetings.

Carla Galle, a staff member at Regent Park, has been involved in the addition of gardens and the new program at her school. The gardens are part of a larger schoolyard-greening project, which is underway.

“Tree planting and shade shelters (are) being added to our yard through fundraising and volunteer efforts. Two community garden boxes are being added to the yard and all students will be caring for our plants and planning for our spring planting season. The volunteerism and community support has been amazing,” said Galle.

When a school focuses on continuous improvement in this way, it is clear it understands the benefits.

“Our students will be exposed to nature areas and all of the abundant teaching and learning experiences that entail. Hands-on learning will have the children be connected to nature,” Galle said.

This is crucial for all students, but some in particular.

“We know some students thrive in a traditional classroom setting and others will thrive through and outdoor setting. We now have more opportunities for both,” said Galle.

Marg Moran, principal at Harriett Todd, shares this sentiment.

“The sustainable school program is a great opportunity for students to connect their learning with hands-on applications, as well as make personal contributions to the community,” she said, referring to the fact some produce will end up at local food banks. “Harriett Todd is planning on continuing to raise awareness amongst its students with respect to reducing our carbon footprint and the importance of sustainability within our community.”

Additional plans for Harriett Todd include an outdoor classroom, a luncheon with produce from its gardens and the addition of local flowers and shrubs to its outdoor space.

All three schools involved hope gardens and greener schoolyards will help form a bridge between the community and the school grounds. In this way, schools become more open and functional in their role as a central part of any community. To find out more about what schools in your area are doing, contact them or visit their websites.

Ross McIntyre is a director at Camp Couchiching and the Couchiching Community Initiative. He is passionate about outdoor education and community building. This column profiles community organizations dedicated to Orillia and opportunities for local youth engagement. If you have a story idea, email

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