Thirteen years ago, Washington Elementary teachers Shanna Karlin and Becky Nielson looked out their windows and saw an opportunity.

An overgrown, weed-filled outdoor space outside the teachers’ classrooms needed attention. The two teachers had an eye for gardening and quickly saw the potential for new learning opportunities by revitalizing the once-overlooked space.

“We asked if there was a possibility of turning it into a garden space that could be used for learning we we received approval,” Karlin said.

From there, the pair transformed the area into a garden using their own funds. Two years later, Karlin and Nielson received a $5,000 grant from the Fremont Area Community Foundation to make the garden a permanent fixture at the elementary school.

Years later, the garden has continued to thrive at the school while also giving its students a first-hand opportunity to experience gardening.

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Every year, Nielson and Karlin bring interested students into the garden to plant flowers at the beginning of the summer. Nielson said seeing the kids react to the growth of the garden during the summer as they return to school is one of the driving forces behind the garden’s continued growth.

“Seeing the kids react to coming back to school in the fall and seeing how much it has grown after planting it in the spring really is what keeps me going,” Nielson said. “That’s what makes me want to take time out of the day to plant with children every year.”

Karlin added that the garden is a reflection of Washington Elementary, so it’s important for the group to maintain the area.

“I think it’s also a matter of pride that this is our building and it is essentially our second home for the kids,” she said. “It gives them the opportunity to invest in their school community and their school home and make a place that may have been perceived as ugly a place that has beauty where you can learn and see nature and involve yourself in that environment.”

Karlin said it “vital” for students to have the opportunity to experience gardening themselves. That opportunity allows students to learn more about everything from how plants grow to the microorganisms that hide underneath the dirt.

“I think that it is an essential part of school, but it’s also an essential part of learning about the Earth and how everything works together in order to create this beautiful landscape that we have the privilege of living on,” she said.

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