Pine Middle School Teaches Life Skills and Environmental Stewardship in the Garden

Pine Middle School Garden
Raised-bed gardens at Pine Middle School, Reno, Nevada
On any given day at Edward Pine Middle Schoolin Reno, Nevada, you can find students out in the school garden: building raised bed boxes, weeding, filling them with compost or selling produce they grew to neighbors in their community.

Mike Ismari, a science teacher at Pine Middle School, is one of the strong forces behind this comprehensive program that started with the construction of fourteen planter boxes and a group of local boy scouts earning Eagle Scout badges. Students have also played a significant role through the Pine Middle School Garden Club, earning community service hours that can often translate into college scholarship opportunities through the local 4-H club.

Pine Middle School teachers
Science teacher Mike Ismari and a colleague in the garden
Since 2010, the gardens have grown, literally. The food garden is now 10,000 square feet, the native habitat garden 1,300 square feet, and the perennial garden 300 square feet, all providing prolific native wildlife habitat, outdoor classrooms and vibrant community gardens. When I visited Mike and the garden this past fall, it was after school and local residents were dropping in to harvest their own fresh locally grown vegetables at the “U-Pic-EM” farmers market. “It’s amazing how this garden has grown into a strong community resource,” says Mike Ismari. The students and I love to grow the food, but not particularly to harvest it. So we open it up several afternoons a week to the local community. Students help people choose what they want, harvest, calculate costs, collect money and keep records of what is sold. It’s a great way to provide fresh, local produce to the community and help build math, science and communication skills with our students.”

Garden Club members have gained multiple life skills from participating in this program, such as:

  • Tool use, from simple hand tools used to create birdhouses to power tools for building raised beds.
  • Food growing and processing, including dehydrating and baking.
  • Communication, through presentations to grant boards and the press.
  • Math/economics as they market and sell their local produce.
Pine Middle School student working in the garden

Mike and his students have worked hard to expand this effort to other local schools, too, including the Smithridge Elementary school which is right across the road from Pine Middle School. Middle school students are now working with elementary students to teach them how to garden, grow and process food. Mike’s dream is to have a school garden at every Reno school – providing great opportunities for students to replace grass and asphalt with productive green spaces and teach students and the greater community about the value of working the land.

Pine Middle School is also working to address other key sustainability issues at their school, including reducing their energy use and working to use renewable energy sources such as solar panels. They are presently participating in a program with National Wildlife Federation through a grant from Wells Fargo. “Building Green Schools from the Inside Out” seeks to work with schools to reduce their carbon footprint. In September, Pine students were inspired and motivated by a presentation from the Alliance for Climate Education and are now utilizing NWF’s Eco-Schools USA program and Cool School Challenge to assess their current carbon footprint and determine ways to reduce their environmental impacts.