Learning blooms for Beattie students in garden

Beattie Elementary School students are growing more than just Ogallala strawberries, red jewel cabbage and early butternut squash in their community garden.
They are also planting seeds for valuable life skills like work ethic, patience and perseverance.
Beattie students hosted their first monthly garden event of the school year on Aug. 28. Students, teachers and family members gathered at the school to build community spirit and learn about ways to help with the outdoor classroom space.
Fifth-grade student Penny said she likes to spend time in the garden. She said the outdoor classrooms have been a fun and rewarding place for students to learn about their world.
“The garden is full of family community friendship, and it’s just like, I mean, they have names of the trees and plants. And if you just look around and notice the small things, it’s really beautiful,” Penny said.

Third-grade student Emek has also enjoyed his outdoor experiences. He wanted to come to Beattie’s garden event because he was in the school’s garden club last year. He was happy to learn that his plants had remained healthy and fruitful over the summer.
“It’s very exciting that some stuff has bloomed,” Emek said.

Beattie Principal Julie Lee said the garden has benefited thousands of students over the past 23 years. Plants, trees and flowers are located on three sides of the building, and numerous fruits and vegetables are included in a large section along Worthington Avenue.
“It’s such an amazing part of our school culture here,” Lee said. “We use it on a daily basis. We’ll hear on the communications radio that a teacher is taking their class to the garden, and it might be to have a math lesson or to let the kids do some reading. It’s used in so many different ways, and the kids love having it here. It’s really wonderful.”
Lincoln resident Mike Hillis spearheaded the garden project in 2000 after he volunteered in his son’s kindergarten classroom. He became sad when he heard a student say tomatoes came from a Styrofoam package in a supermarket. He decided to form a garden to help them learn where food truly comes from and discover native Nebraska plants and flowers.
The garden has flourished under the guidance of Beattie supporters since its inception. The Worthington Avenue section includes themed areas such as the green sea garden, pollinator garden and contemplation garden. A sundial, colorful mosaic sculptures and a small boat named NEBobcat1 are featured alongside fruits, vegetables, plants and grasses.
The Platte River garden runs along the entire Calvert Street side of the building and includes many trees and flowers by a trail. A walking path garden stretches down Stockwell Street and has trees, flowers and native grasses. It curves past parts of Beattie’s playground.
Third-grade teacher Lee Dreyer and master gardener Karen Creswell both said the garden has helped students like Penny and Emek in academic, social and emotional ways. Dreyer has spent more than 20 years working at Beattie and has been the garden’s staff liaison for six years. Creswell has volunteered at school for 15 years and leads students in exploratory classes and projects.
“It’s a place that provides so many different opportunities for students,” Dreyer said. “It gives them room to walk outside and enjoy nature, and it has a real calming presence for them. It helps them decompress and cope with anything that might be going on in their lives.”
“Each student has a different reaction to the garden,” Creswell said. “Students frequently tell me stories of wonder, magic and awe.”
Dreyer said students gain a great deal from having ownership stakes in the garden. They oversee different sections each year based on grade level.
Kindergarten students have started managing the sculpture garden this fall, and first graders are overseeing the pollinator garden. Students are also supervising the walking path garden (second grade), green sea garden (third grade), prairie garden (fourth grade) and Platte River garden (fifth grade).
“It’s something that creates a really strong bond for them with the school,” Dreyer said. “When they leave here after fifth grade they can always look back and know that they made a difference with the garden. That hands-on experience is something that carries with them.”
Penny said students are aware that the garden connects everyone at Beattie.
“It’s not just a one-grade thing,” Penny said. “It’s a full-family thing.”
The garden is home to many community-based projects and lessons throughout the year. Creswell led activities on Aug. 28 and served people pumpkin squares and cucumber water that came from Beattie-grown produce. Monthly neighborhood events take place on various weeknights during the spring, summer and fall, and parent volunteers help with weeding and watering duties in the summer.
Lee said the garden has offered more than just carrots, hostas and hydrangeas for Beattie students and parents to enjoy. It has also provided a place to grow a strong neighborhood and school community.
“Our biggest supporters are our neighbors and families,” Lee said. “They really value what we have here. It’s so nice to see that, because it shows what an amazing school we have.”

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Published: September 1, 2023, Updated: September 9, 2023

A future gardener inspects fresh produce during an Aug. 28 community event at Beattie Elementary School. Dozens of Beattie families and neighbors came to 1901 Calvert St. for garden-based activities. They picked fruits and vegetables, toured garden spaces and enjoyed friendly conversations throughout the early evening. Beattie will host similar garden events each month throughout the school year.