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Collaboration is Key to Jersey City School Garden Success

Jerseycity-9965Jersey City, New Jersey is an up and coming city in view of the Statue of Liberty. Nestled among its tree-lined streets and historic buildings is Dr. Lena Edwards Academic Charter School. This K-8 charter school opened in 2011 with a vision of providing stable and rigorous academic instruction and character education. Since its founding the school has focused on ways to improve the health and well-being of their students. From healthier selections in the cafeteria to becoming an active participant in Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move Campaign,” teachers and development director Pat West have made significant changes to help their students live healthier lives.

In 2013 big changes occurred when a student-led green committee formed with plans to transform a concrete play space into a living schoolyard. Students at Dr. Lena Edwards Academic Charter reached out to KidsGardening.org to tell their story. Several months later, our KidsGardening.org team, along with Debbie Kaplan, HR Director of the Hyatt Regency Jersey City on the Hudson hotel, paid the school a visit. Through detailed graphs, garden plans, and plant research, students demonstrated how a garden would change their academic studies, social interactions, and their community. Students wrote speeches, performed a song, and prepared documents so that we could learn more about their ideas to improve environmental education at their school.

Jerseycity-0015Moved by the program’s dedication, Hyatt Regency Jersey City on the Hudson’s devoted staff raised $7,500 to initially fund the project. Additional funding from the Hyatt Thrive Community Grant expedited the fundraising process, ultimately raising $21,000 for the garden installation! With grant money in hand and the planting season started, it was time to move from garden planning to garden installation.

In May 2015, the KidsGardening.org education team, Hyatt volunteers, and students at Dr. Lena Edwards Academic Charter installed over 300 plants, 18 raised beds, 3 pallets of soil, a composter, 9 planter benches, and a storage space. All students attending the school participated in the installation. Key tasks included building raised beds, creating plant labels, designing and planting a perennial garden, building trellises, and creating an herb garden. Participants worked from early morning late into the evening to ensure that every last plant was in the right place.

Students are looking forward to a harvest party later this summer with support from the kitchen staff of the Hyatt Regency on the Hudson. Students will learn to cook and serve fresh garden produce – and, of course, savor the abundant harvest from the thriving garden in which they have invested so much.