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Armstrong School for the Arts, Forrest Elementary and Kilgore Gifted Center Teachers and Students Show Off Their Gardens


On Saturday, September 25, 2021, teachers and students from Armstrong School for the Arts, Forrest Elementary, and Ann H. Kilgore Gifted Center welcomed attendees of the American Community Gardening Association Conference (ACGA) to their respective school gardens. The city of Hampton and Wendy Isles, Community Garden Coordinator, hosted the 2021 conference which drew individuals from across the country for educational workshops and tours of local community gardens. 


Ann H. Kilgore Gifted Center (KGC) was the first stop for visitors on the school garden tour. The school garden was established in 2015 under the direction of teacher Michele Ferrel with help from students, parents, staff, and community groups. Ferrel was inspired after completing the week-long Hampton Environmental Literacy Project (H.E.L.P.) professional development experience. Student guides were stationed at different features of the garden where they each shared information and answered questions for guests. Maria Bebawy showcased the native plant area, Liam Pattom the vegetable garden, Olivia Flanigan and Cally Wilcom the birdfeeders,


Cassidy Neil the tree stump seating area, and Emma Ray the pond. The garden received certification as a Wildlife Habitat from the National Wildlife Federation. Ferrel said, “I love to see the excitement and enthusiasm from the students as we explore and interact with the schoolyard habitat. I know students are benefitting from hands-on learning when they come back with stories about gardens they have created at home after learning about them in school.”


Michelle Bowers, Alison Rhodes, Principal Millicent Rogers and students were on hand to welcome visitors to the Armstrong School for the Arts garden. Armstrong, currently celebrating its 100th year, boasts the oldest school garden. The garden has seen many iterations since kindergarten students, parents, staff and community groups created it in 1997, and as Rhodes stated, “We continue to share it with children as they learn and explore nature.” The garden serves as an observation and exploration classroom as it contains native plants for butterflies and birds, raised vegetable beds, and a strawberry patch. After Michelle Bowers provided a quick history of the garden, student guides Christian Mason, Zoe Studley, Piper Cartwright, Leo Day, and Guiliana Mouton talked about their personal experiences in the garden, such as planting vegetables each spring, watching butterfly life cycles, and literally enjoying the fruits of their labor with the annual strawberry harvest. Students also explained their work with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to install a rain garden that filters rainwater runoff from the roof prior to it entering storm drains.


The school garden portion of the ACGA tour wrapped up at Forrest Elementary where teachers Karen Sealey, Aimee Ryder, and students Hunter Dunn and Caleb Chitwood showed off their Ranger pride. Karen Sealey explained that the Forrest butterfly garden, which is maintained by the Ecology Club, was created in 2009 with a grant from the Hampton Youth Commission. The mission of the garden is to provide a safe space for students to experience and explore the natural world through hands-on investigations. Students explained how using the garden brings the curriculum to life for all Forrest students while also enhancing the school grounds. The Forrest garden boasts a beautiful outdoor learning classroom, complete with a whiteboard, that was created through the generosity of Forrest partner New Covenant Church in 2018. “Here at Forrest, staff and students love to work, learn, and cultivate in our garden and outdoor classroom. It is a learning oasis for students and insects alike,” said Aimee Ryder.