Our garden does not just belong to the school. It is a community garden. Our neighbors give use financial contributions, plants, seeds, and equipment. They help weed, water, stake up plants, and pick pest from plants. When we are not in school, you never know what little things happen. The garden creates the feeling where neighbors and school are one. It is also wonderful to see the children working together in the garden. Some of more challenging children excel in the garden. To quote one kindergartener, "Gardening is better than recess."
- Guyla Woodbrey
Guyla truly says it best. A kindergarten teacher who has taught at Saccarappa for 24 years, with an additional 10 years of experience as a Home Economics teacher, Guyla Woodbrey is the fearless leader and champion of their school garden. She has a unique success story of truly building community around the garden, and encouraging the use of it with the rest of the school. Her gentle and hardworking nature are perfectly suited for the task. “No one can say no to Guyla,” as their principal, Brian Mazjanis, says.
Her role includes assigning each of the twelve raised beds to classrooms (half of the school directly participates in this way), ordering compost, and planning a school-wide event where students and staff distribute the compost throughout the beds. She then supplies the materials and seedlings for classrooms to do the planting themselves, making it easy for teachers to get involved. During the summer months, she is the one who coordinates garden care and maintenance – this summer, watering was an issue for many school gardens but a simple letter home with students brought coverage from two parent volunteers per week. She and Linda Bois, another teacher and garden leader at the school, bring an exhibit and produce from the garden to the Cumberland Fair (a participant in the School Garden Grown project), and take home over $50 in premiums. As an added bonus, she is an avid champion of Maine Ag in the Classroom’s Read ME program (there’s still time to sign up as a volunteer!) and brought 100% participation to the Saccarappa School. You might call her a superstar.
The Saccarappa School Garden is fully visible to the community; situated right next to the main entrance of the school, you can’t possibly miss it. The school itself is quite small – around 330 students and 18 teachers, bringing students in from a radius of only about a mile around the school. Beyond the twelve raised beds for the classrooms, there is a 10x16 foot greenhouse (more on that to come), an herb garden for the Food Service Department, and a perennial living fence border next to the road.
When I visited in September, the beds were bursting with sweet cherry tomatoes, brassicas galore, root crops still nestled in the soil, including beets destined to be processed at the high school, and more. I was lucky enough to speak with Guyla, Linda, and Cindy Petry - another teacher who uses the garden and lives near enough to coordinate watering on weekends and in the summer with her neighbors - as well as the proud principle of the school, Brian Mazjanis.
“Saccarappa School's Principal is one of our biggest supporters. He recently wrote a letter of support for a grant. In that grant, he states, “One of the most beautiful features of our wonderful little school is our garden area on the front corner of our property.” The garden was the first thing that caught his attention when he came to Saccarappa.”
As we sat and chatted, a few community members strolled through the garden, knowing that they were welcome visitors.
Many stories were shared with me around the picnic table outside the greenhouse. The teachers gushed about how their students loved spending time in the garden and became more willing to try new foods, and the Mr. Mazjanis spoke about how much it has done for their school culture and managing student behavior. Once we adjourned, Guyla had one more person she wanted me to meet.
The school’s custodian and maintenance staff member, Hilario Lopez, is deeply engrained in the garden. He has dedicated hours and hours to helping get the greenhouse up and running, water to the plants, and so much more. Guyla says that none of it could have happened without him.
They also received a lot of support from the local businesses in the community, who donated numerous items as well as some funds to add to their greenhouse. Guyla and Linda created a packet for businesses with information and pictures, as well as testimonials from other businesses that were already participating. They mentioned that some business owners could identify with the students who found sitting at a desk all day to be challenging. The teachers at the table agreed that of the greatest successes was seeing how students who created classroom management issues were not difficult once they were in the garden or greenhouse. Communal efforts such as these are not easy to manage or commonly found, but the rewards are great and success is that much sweeter when it can be shared among all those involved.
The more we talk about school gardens and what it takes to make them successful, the more we hear about collaboration and how many people must be on board. It all starts with coming up with a strategic plan that includes all of the stakeholders – teachers, staff, administration, and students “Make friends with the school community,” she says, because so many resources are to be found there. So how does Guyla get people on board? “I just ask them,” she says. Sometimes that’s all it takes!
If you'd like to get in touch with Guyla, learn more about their program, or schedule a visit, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.