Rocky Hill may lose school garden lab

By Nancy Gutierrez

The fate of the Rocky Hill Elementary Life Lab Garden looks dim as Exeter Union School District Board members killed the item containing recommendations for improvement of the lab at the June 8 board meeting.

At a previous board meeting Principal Jessica Bradshaw presented the board with recommendations she and teachers Stan Dillon and Doug Snyder made after visiting the Sundale Elementary School garden facility. The report was created for a request by board member Mickey Hirni, who said care and maintenance of the garden had not been consistent.

"There was good participation five years ago. It's declined ever since," Hirni said. "Now with more traffic going by there, people are going to see that mess."

Hirni said the land could be better utilized for other purposes.

"Perhaps we'll leave a small area for kids to plant some seeds," he said. "Now it's too big. People are bogged down and don't have the time. To me it's a dead issue. It was a good idea but it's time for it to go away."

Stan Dillon a third-grade teacher at Rocky Hill has held many class lecture in the life lab. He said between six and eight teachers use the life lab in their classes regularly during the spring semester. He said there is a push in the state to get gardens in schools with the "A Garden in Every School" program.

In 1995 Then State Superintendent Delaine Estin created the "A Garden In Every School initiative. The initiative was used primarily to support a student’s understanding of core content subject areas such as math, science, and English-language arts. However when school gardens are linked with both fresh vegetables and fruits served in the cafeteria and nutrition education in the classroom, they can play a role in reversing negative public health trends such as obesity and related diseases in school-age children.

"We've been the leader in that project and now we're going the opposite way," Dillon said. "The board doesn't provide funds for maintenance of the area. There has been no financial backing for six years. The board ignored it and now they want to terminate it."

The garden project has also been widely supported by the California Foundation for Ag in the Classroom. They will hold their statewide conference in Visalia in October and had planned on visiting the Rocky Hill site to tour the garden and observe how its being used. Dillon said that probably won't happen if the area is removed.

Tulare County Farm Bureau Executive Director Cheryl Lehn said there are eighth schools in Tulare County with life labs and said the farm bureau tries to help schools maintain their garden projects. She said the projects provide students with the opportunity to learn about where their food and fiber

comes from while also improving academically.

"It is a ready made science lab for us. I don't have to do any preparation for it in class," Dillon said.

He added that in-class science labs are hard to achieve since teachers have no where to keep science material that need refrigeration.

"This will effect my science curriculum. I have my demonstrations out there," he said.

The board held a facilities meeting Tuesday to decide what to do with the area. Results were given after press time. Dillon said there was speculation of discing the entire area and even creating a parking lot.

In other business:

  • Both the Exeter Union High School and Exeter Union School District killed another agenda item when no motion was made to approve a request for seven additional minimum days during the school year for staff development. Several Board members from both districts did not want to see additional minimum days added because they saw it as a disruption to the students and class time. Some members thought that the added days were being introduced to cover training days involving the Bay Area School Reform (BASRC) program which administration is researching for possible cross district participation. Deputy Superintendent Diane Graziani said the additional minimum days were in place before administration had looked into BASRC. She said during staff development teachers in subject areas get together to discuss teaching practices and subject units that need to be targeted. Lincoln Elementary School Principal Jane Mitchell and Rocky Hill principal Jessica Bradshaw said the time is important to teachers and administration.

    "In order for schools to move forward we have to give teachers time to move forward as a group," Mitchell said.

    For board members the disruption outweighed the argument for the additional days.

    "It's a disruption for families," board member Mike White said. "I can't keep track of when kids are in school and not in school."

  • The boards presented plaques to student representatives who have attended the meetings to report on school activities. Andrew Macauley was the high school representative and Robert Batino was the middle school representative. Marshal Thompson was presented with a plaque for his service as the student board member.

  • The high school district postponed until the June 17 meeting the approval of EUHS school plans for increased rigor. Recommendations were developed by site leadership team members. The recommendation included an additional three periods of instruction at $24,000, $4,000 worth of materials, and $1,200 for curriculum development. The board will have a better idea of budget availability by the June 17 meeting.

  • The board renewed the contract with the Tulare County Probation department. A probation officer will be assigned to Kaweah High School two days a week and Wilson Middle School one day a week.

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