Third grade class at Sequoia Union wins $2,500 grant in national Carton 2 Garden contest


By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

LEMON COVE – There’s no reason to cry over spilt milk in Lemon Cove because a group of students at Sequoia Elementary School are just as interested in the empty carton as they are in the milk.

Rhonda Finfrock’s third grade class at Sequoia Elementary was awarded $2,500 yesterday for their winning entry into the fourth annual Carton 2 Garden contest presented by Evergreen Packaging, a global leader in fiber-based packaging solutions, and KidsGardening, a leading resource for garden-based education across the country.

The contest promotes life skills such as creativity, leadership and teamwork by inviting students to work together to build or enhance their school gardens with repurposed milk or juice cartons. This year’s contest focused on STEM, sustainability, and health and nutrition, and awarded prizes totaling $22,500 to 14 schools around the country for their carton garden creations.

Finfrock’s class was the winner in the STEM category for the best use of science, technology, engineering, and math lessons in their project. As part of Sequoia Union’s transformation from a traditional public K-8 school to an agriculture-based charter school, Frinfrock said her class completed 10 different STEM-related projects using repurposed milk cartons for the garden just feet from their classroom.  Creatively integrated across the curriculum, the activities supported hands-on learning opportunities about sustainable farming practices.  To see a video of the projects, visit 

“They love interacting with living things and they love being outside,” Finfrock said. “Every day they have a chance to be out there and each student takes care of their own square foot within the garden.”

The projects included goal setting and teamwork, data analysis, using soil to raise mealworms to feed class chickens; vermicomposting, the use of worms to convert organic waste into fertilizer, and fish emulsion, which uses waste produced by trout and frogs to create fertilizer.

“We integrated the project into everything we do from reading and writing to research and science,” she said. “These kids are thriving and they love the garden. They have completely taken it over and do all of the work.”

Finfrock said students collected more than 180 milk cartons, cleaned them and then used them for the projects. Half cartons were used as seed starter pots which can be stored until they are replanted into the garden and the cartons can be reused. Half cartons were also used to soak seeds to speed up germination and decorated as clothes for potatoes they harvested as part of an art project called “Spud Bob Quad Pants.” Students also used full cartons to take home and collect food waste which could be used in composting and to create bee bungalows, where the cartons were filled with toilet paper rolls to create a honeycomb effect and then placed on the top of poles decorated like large flowers to attract pollinators to their garden.

“To see this kind of enthusiasm and involvement and to see them know they can and do make a difference, it’s why I do what I do,” Frinfrock said. 

A total of 270 entries were judged on specific criteria, including creativity, incorporation of sustainable materials and visual representation. Classroom groups were required to repurpose at least 100 cartons of any size in their creation, including cartons from the school cafeteria or from home. All entries were judged by the education specialists at KidsGardening.

“The Carton 2 Garden Contest allows students to express their creativity and strengthen their leadership abilities all while learning about how to take care of their minds, bodies, communities and planet,” says Emily Shipman, executive director of KidsGardening. “We are so thrilled to partner with Evergreen Packaging to bring this important opportunity to students across the country.”

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