2012-05-04 / Front Page

Dyer Elementary School students learn what it means to be ‘green’

By Kristy Wagner
Staff Writer


Students of Sara Foster’s first grade class at Dyer Elementary in South Portland eagerly line up to fill their wheelbarrows with soil. Foster’s class was helping to fill in the six raised garden beds that volunteers constructed on school grounds Friday as part of an effort to make the school a greener place. 
(Kristy Wagner photo) Students of Sara Foster’s first grade class at Dyer Elementary in South Portland eagerly line up to fill their wheelbarrows with soil. Foster’s class was helping to fill in the six raised garden beds that volunteers constructed on school grounds Friday as part of an effort to make the school a greener place. (Kristy Wagner photo) First graders swung shovels and pushed wheelbarrows full of soil back and forth with excitement, while adults supervised and helped them with their gardening.

The students at Dyer Elementary School in South Portland all chipped in Friday to make the school a greener place to learn. With the help of the school’s greening committee, made up of one parent and two teachers, students planted six garden beds, built and painted 15 birdhouses and painted a giant banner with the names, fingerprints and handprints of all the students at Dyer Elementary.

“This is the first time Dyer has really done anything green like this,” said Angela Blier, the parent who spearheaded the greening project.


First graders of Sara Foster’s class at Dyer Elementary work hard to fill the school’s new raised garden beds. Each grade took part in preparing the six garden beds that the school will use to grow vegetables and herbs. Each garden has a theme, such as salad or pizza, and represents each grade from Kindergarten through fifth. (Kristy Wagner photo) First graders of Sara Foster’s class at Dyer Elementary work hard to fill the school’s new raised garden beds. Each grade took part in preparing the six garden beds that the school will use to grow vegetables and herbs. Each garden has a theme, such as salad or pizza, and represents each grade from Kindergarten through fifth. (Kristy Wagner photo) Blier approached Principal Rebecca Brown in the fall with the idea of the Whole Kids Foundation Garden Grant. The Whole Kids Foundation is a charitable organization associated with Whole Foods Market. The foundation believes gardens are a “vital educational tool” and that growing food initiates healthier eating habits in children and encourages an overall healthier outlook on food. The foundation awards up to $2,000 in a single grant.

“I thought it was amazing,” Brown said. “It is all about the whole child.”

Before she came to Dyer, Brown was the principal at a school in Moosehead where students and teachers focused on “an environmental education perspective.” She said green activities, such as gardening, would help teach children at Dyer to be more mindful of bigger issues and themes around food and nutrition.

Blier wrote the grant with the help of Ed Dame, fifth grade teacher, and Heather Tolan, special education technician. Blier, Dame and Tolan make up the greening committee, but Blier said there are other parents interested in becoming more involved. The Whole Kids Foundation recently informed Blier that the school received the grant, but the full amount has yet to be disclosed.

Dyer’s new green efforts and activities are also being funded by a mini grant awarded by the Communities Promoting Health Coalition, a Healthy Maine partnership and a program of the Opportunity Alliance. The coalition’s purpose is to produce communities that value, and have access to, nutritious and locally grown food. Mini grants are usually awarded in the amount of $750, but Dyer was awarded $1,000 since the school is just starting with the process of investing in a greener campus.

The coalition’s mini grants are meant to provide support and assistance to groups, such as the greening committee at Dyer, which would like to make changes in their community and participate in activities that encourage nutrition and a healthier food system.

The grants helped pay for materials to help with the process of making the school greener. Rufus Deering Lumber Co. in Portland gave the school a generous discount on lumber for the garden beds, posts and birdhouses. Highland Avenue Greenhouse in Scarborough and Broadway Gardens in South Portland donated soil, seedlings and seeds. JP Thornton’s provided discounted food to teachers, parents and other volunteers at Friday’s greening event and Cambridge Coffee donated coffee for volunteers who were up early on Friday to build the raised garden beds in the morning rain.

“We have asked parents to volunteer one week each over the summer for watering and things like that,” Blier said.

The summer lasts about 10 weeks.

Each garden represented each grade and each had a theme. Themes for the gardens included salsa, salad, pizza, herbs, root and winter. Students painted colorful wooden labels to accompany each crop in the gardens.

The school will harvest the food from the gardens and incorporate it into snacks to teach students the fundamentals of healthy eating and the fun of growing food. Blier said whatever the school doesn’t use for snacks would most likely be donated to a soup kitchen or food pantry.

Each grade took about half an hour on Friday afternoon to fill the garden beds with soil, paint birdhouses and dig holes in the ground for birdhouse posts.

“It’s so good for the kids to do this. It’s very hands on and a lot of fun for all of them,” said Charlene Clark, a parent volunteer with children in the second and fourth grades.

Blier said the greening committee has more plans for the school in the fall, such as doing a bulb drive. She said the plan is to have children plant bulbs around the grounds in the fall and in the spring they will see the bulbs grow into plants and flowers.

“That will be nice because it is something the kids can witness while they are still in session,” Blier said.

Staff Writer Kristy Wagner can be reached at 282- 4337, ext. 219.

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