SHIRLEY -- Last spring, Lura A. White Elementary School parent Erica Frew, whose first-grader Sam was in Charlene Shorey's class, volunteered to "do something with plants" with the kids.
Little did she know that Shorey had a vision to create something far beyond just a few potted plants on a windowsill.
"I told her about this huge project I had in my head," Shorey explained.
The project was to create a school garden, where students could connect with nature, learn about plants and environmental stewardship, and enhance their academic, community, and social skills.
"Erica looked at the soil we have and said that we had to have raised beds," Shorey said.
Frew then came up with a plan to build seven raised beds, and within days they were being constructed.
"CJ and Todd Moore donated the lumber, and the Heinzes, Quintys, Castos and Kahns helped to build them," Frew said, counting off her newly organized volunteers.
"Mark Pinard donated the top soil and mulch, and all of the plants (around the perimeter of the fence) except the blueberries."
Shorey's student Chloe Woodward's mother Bonnie, who works at Weston Nurseries, elicited a donation from the nursery of seven blueberry bushes. The other plants around the perimeter, including a butterfly bush, two Alberta spruce, and a Kousa dogwood in honor of retiring kindergarten Sarah Jodka, were donated by Pinard's Landscaping and installed by parents Pinard, Kevin Heinz and Mitch Kahn.
Frew also built a vertical pallet garden, and has since added a compost bin.
Children from the LAW extended day program and the lower grades helped with the rest of the planting, and over the summer and into the fall the garden produced a bountiful harvest of peas, lettuce, beans, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, squash, potatoes and flowers.
This spring, Frew and the school's teachers would like to expand the garden in both breadth and use, and thanks to the Greater Lowell Community Foundation and the Community Foundationof North Central Massachusetts, their goals are within reach. The two foundations recently announced that they have awarded the LAW Learning Garden program a grant for $17,425.
The funds will be used to pay for gardening and curricular materials, teacher stipends, fundraising and promotional expenses, and the time and expertise of environmental educators Laurie Nehring of Ayer, and Dina Samfield of Shirley, who will help the teachers integrate the garden into the school-wide curriculum.
In a letter dated Feb. 8, GLCF Executive Director Raymond Riddick Jr., and CFNCM President Philip Grzewinski, congratulated Ayer-Shirley Regional School District Superintendent Carl Mock on the school's successful proposal.
"We wish you every success as you implement this project," the letter states.
"Kids learn best by doing, and gardening projects are ideally suited for inquiry-based, hands-on learning, and critical thinking and communication skills," said LAW Principal Patricia Fitzgerald. "Nearly every subject can incorporate some aspect of the garden into a lesson, and we look forward to incorporating the garden into the school day."
"Educating the 'whole child' is central to our work in the regional district," added ASRSD Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Mary Beth Hamel.
"The district and school goals alike support our quest to engage, challenge and educate students in a healthy, safe, supportive learning environment. Learning by doing, especially in the service of others, is the kind of learning that will stick long after class is over.
Hamel said that the district is contributing $500 toward curricular and other materials for the project, which is already underway.