Principal Shelly Murphy of Westwood Elementary will tell you her students, grades kindergarten through sixth grade, grow the best tasting lettuce found anywhere.
A part of the Dayton Neighborhood School Project and in collaboration with Wright State University and Wesley Community Center, Westwood students have been nurturing their very own garden for two years.
The two schoolyard plots take the shape of a letter “W” for Westwood, and “E” for Eagles.
The COVID-19 pandemic has postponed events, weddings and altered school years, but it couldn’t stop the students’ fresh green onions, parsley, sage, peppers, zucchini, carrots or lettuces from flourishing.
The garden has relied on passionate teachers and Colleen Saxen, WSU faculty in the Department of Teacher Education, to tend the garden after students were sent home for the school year in March. Murphy said students are more than ready to take back the reigns at the start of the new school year.
“I think the kids are going to be so excited to just come back and learn physically in the school and have their hands in the dirt and growing things,” Murphy said. “Seems like (remote learning) makes things more exciting in person.
After students left in spring and throughout the summer, Saxen led students through video lessons about the garden, updating them on produce they planted in the fall.
Recently, Westwood teachers packed 30 bags of harvested lettuce planted by students in the fall to send home with students’ families.
“It was the best lettuce I’ve ever had in my life, to be honest with you,” Murphy said.
Westwood teachers’ main goal with the garden is making sure students have something positive to come back to this fall, according to Murphy.
“Congratulations to Westwood Elementary students on growing a phenomenal student garden!” wrote Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley in a July Facebook post. “You all and your teachers are making a positive difference in our community. Let’s continue to support our problem solvers of tomorrow.”
Murphy said she can’t wait to see students, once again, sitting excitedly at the edge of the garden, or proclaiming at recess to their friends, which vegetables they helped grow.
“Teachers have been at a home, but they’re coming in a couple times a week to work on the garden and to weed,” Murphy said. “So it’s just a real passion for them, and it’s exciting that they can share it with the kids.”