Kingswood Elementary School on Kingsway just north of Bloomingdale has a very special garden in the circular courtyard inside that passersby do not see. Big things have been happening there since Mr. Craig Burkhard became principal four and a half years ago just when the grounds were in need of renovation.
That was when they started their Pennies-for-Plants program and students donated the funds that put in the irrigation system and other permanent structures for their Reading Garden. Since then they have a drive every year and the classroom that contributes the most gets an ice cream party. Funds now go mostly for new plants or mulch or wicker furniture.
"The theory behind this," says Mr. Burkhard, "is that children will take better care of the garden since they feel they are involved. Everyone here uses the garden, the students, the teachers, and the parents. The fifth grade mentors sit out there when the weather is good and read to the younger children. Adult volunteer tutors work with students on reading or on other subjects.
"We find that if everything looks nice, the children behave better. Many parents also like the park-like atmosphere."
Most of the installation work has been done by Mr. Burkhard, the teachers, and parent volunteers. It is maintained by both the principal and the custodial staff. The children help plant and clean up in general.
The gardens also serve as classrooms for science projects such as the vegetable gardens were peppers, tomatoes, and some of Florida's best spinach--a very difficult crop to grow here--are thriving. Cucumbers are vining up a trellis in front of an antique wagon. All of these thirsty plants are grown in Earth Boxes where water reservoirs greatly increase the rate of success and production.
A paved and covered path surrounds the circular courtyard and classrooms open onto it. Just inside the circle this year, and as a new addition, daylilies have been blooming for the past several weeks.
"It is a surprise for the students every day to come in and see what new colors and new plants are blooming that day," says Mr. Burkhard.
Crisscrossing the circle are flagstone paths, a part of the original garden, put down by someone wise enough to know that people of all ages like a shortcut and children especially seek the shortest distance between where they are and where they are going.
"We make a point to teach them at the beginning of the year that they must step one foot on each stone and not run and they are very careful," says Mr. Burkhard..
There is also a patio where parents can come and eat lunch with their students and where teachers eat. Much of the brick work was done on that by Mr. Randy Kelly who has children in the school. Large, colorful umbrellas, as well as towering trees shade the picnic tables, and pots of ferns decorate the tops of the large brick fence posts.
Children who learn to notice and appreciate gardens and nature are much more likely to learn to find happiness and contentment in their lives at little cost. They come to realize the great rewards of even small bits of dedication, and as painlessly as possible also learn the loss of neglect.
Perhaps the Kingswood School garden can best be summed up in this little poem that came from a wood nymph.
In this garden of sunlight, of blossoms and trees,
I study the cardinal abuilding her nest.
I'm happy to learn my ABCs,
And even to read about Socrates.
We folks at Kingwood
Both young and old
Can understand that Nature's good
Is to be treasured more than gold.
This is the patio where the teachers eat lunch
and parents can come and eat lunch with their students.