The school year is coming to an end, but Ashgrove Elementary saw a new beginning this week when hundreds of students gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at a new garden on the school's southeast lawn.
This garden, largely created by the students themselves, was the brainchild of STEM facilitator Kari Oeser, who figured she could make a life science project out of the unused green space.
Students designed and built raised garden beds from scratch, created wind chimes, and installed edging along a gravel walkway through the site.
Math, science and gardening
The engineering of the space, Oeser said, helped show the students "how science and math come together."
"It's really been a kids' hands-on project," she said. "Some kids got dirty for the first time in their life."
The gravel walkway is adorned with rocks that each student painted to tell their story using American Indian symbols.
The children also painted murals for the school's facade based on a book they read.
The creation of the space came with help from grant funding and donations from location groups, including 2m Construction, Ace Hardware and the city of Riverton.
Benches will also be installed in the garden, allowing children tranquil places to read and learn.
"They can come out and do other things here too," Oeser said. "We know how important it is for them to be outside."
Oeser said the school's existing sprinkler system should keep the plants healthy during the summer, and the six feet of fresh soil that was put in should also mean weeds are a limited issue.
To celebrate the solar eclipse this summer, sunflowers were planted from seeds taken from compost in the school.
Oeser said she'd like to plant squashes and other vegetables in future years that will be ready for harvest when the children return to school in the fall.
The school is also considering installing a covered garden box, which would allow for students to learn even more about plant life cycles through greenhouse gardening.
Year to year
The garden's development doesn't end with the current students.
Each new class of first-graders will decorate their own rocks for the garden, and more murals will be painted.
"It's developing that sense of place that 'This doesn't belong to Ashgrove -- it belongs to me,'" Oeser said. "And I think a lot of our kids in poverty don't have that."