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Garden program earns school sustainability award

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LAKE COUNTY – Local schools in Arlee and Polson earned state recognition focused on conservation and sustainability practices.

In the spring, a corner of the Polson Middle School grounds becomes lush with food plants. The garden, and programs that utilize the space, earned PMS the SMART Green Schools award.

In a virtual award ceremony, Lieutenant Governor Mike Cooney presented the award to PMS and a number of other schools around the state including the Arlee High School. The award comes with a $1,000 prize for the school.

The SMART school challenge encourages schools to conserve resources and develop sustainable systems. The Green challenge is one of three different categories where schools compete for recognition on a state level. 

PMS was selected for its multifaceted garden programming. “What stuck out is the interaction between the community and the garden programs,” said SMART Schools coordinator Jazzmyn Mullen. “It seems very student-driven.” 

Amy Williams, special services teacher and school garden coordinator, founded the garden with former family and consumer sciences teacher Terry Callahan in 2013. In the years since its inception, the garden has served as an avenue for social, emotional and behavioral learning. It’s been integrated into science and language arts classes. 

Williams teaches a gardening class each spring and fall quarter in Polson. The garden produces foods that are mostly indigenous to North America and culturally significant to native people in the area.  

In the last year, students have brought the garden inside during the winter months to grow micro-greens in the windowsills of some classrooms. In the fall, they held the annual Harvest Feast, where community members come together to enjoy a meal made from food grown by students in the garden. 

Student-led composting is another part of the project. Cafeteria waste is transformed into fertile soil for the garden. Thousands of pounds of waste are diverted from the landfill during the school year. Students also conserve rainwater for watering plants. When the schools moved to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, students took home soil and seeds so they could start gardens at their own homes. 

Williams stressed that the garden, and the award, reflect a community effort to get kids involved in growing food. Various programs at Salish Kootenai College support the garden programs as well. “It really takes an entire community,” she said.

This summer, teachers will plant and care for the garden, so when students return to school, they can harvest and enjoy school-grown food and share it with the community.

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