Jefferson Elementary students beautify school through gardening

By Kathy Vitale, Garden Club Advisor
For the Journal

POCATELLO – Just outside Jefferson Elementary School’s two entrances off Gwen Street and Skyline Drive, an array of flowers are in full bloom. The secret to the school’s beauty doesn’t belong to the local landscaper – rather to the students who created the gardens.

“When I first saw the garden, I actually thought grownups did all the gardening,” said Olivia Hernandez, a student at Jefferson.

However, as she came to find out when she joined the Jefferson Garden Club, the work of tending these gardens is done by fourth and fifth graders who sign up for an after-school service club.

Students can join the Jefferson Garden Club when they are in fourth and fifth grades. There are also several younger club members who have older siblings in the club or who are especially motivated to garden. Kyle Anderson, a first grader, says participating in the club have him “the chance to meet more people from other classes.”

Each year between 35 and 40 children sign up to help with the gardens after school on Mondays.  During the school year, rarely does a day go by without students coming up to Kathy Vitale, Garden Club advisor, to ask if it is their week to help in the gardens. 

“I like to help people garden and make it pretty,” said club member Vanessa Hernandez. 

And the school gardens are indeed beautiful.

Two years ago the students used salvaged pieces of an old concrete sidewalk to lay a curved path through one of the gardens.  They unloaded a pickup truck full of pea gravel to lay a bed, then laid the concrete pieces in to form a walkway.

“I can’t believe kids are doing this!” said Carson Choules, then a second grader.

And yet, here he was, one of those kids who was hauling concrete and learning how to level the path. 

The gardens provide the neighborhood community an opportunity to be involved as well.  During the summer, older youth associated with the next door LDS church and with alumni ties to Jefferson help with bigger projects like trimming back juniper bushes or spreading mulch. Jefferson families sign up to be responsible for a week of watering to keep the gardens looking beautiful.

Through Garden Club, students get experience with plants, landscape design and service to their school. 

“We didn’t just sit in a classroom and learn about gardening, but by actually going outside and having the experience,” said Audry Hernandez. 

Last summer, students grew a vegetable garden at the Power House Community Garden.  They sampled different varieties of vegetables, and also got to cook with them and took produce home to share with their families.  The community garden land was sold last fall to a private individual and so that gardening experience doesn’t currently exist. 

The gardens at Jefferson help welcome students to the school each day.  Anthony Garcia, a fifth grader at Jefferson, said that the garden is “a great way to start off the school day by looking at the gardens.” 

The Jefferson gardens help instill a sense of pride,  give students ownership in their school environment as well as being places of beauty for the entire neighborhood.

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