The fifth-grade girls work in the garden at the Seattle Girls’ School. Photo courtesy of Leslie McDaniel
The fifth-grade girls work in the garden at the Seattle Girls’ School. Photo courtesy of Leslie McDaniel

An urban garden at the Seattle Girls’ School (2706 S. Jackson St.) is teaching middle-school-aged girls about math, community and food equity.

The garden has been a goal for the school for a long time. The school had a smaller version last year, but this September, the garden was fully developed and has been integrated into the fifth-grade class’ curriculum. 

Seattle Girls’ School is a girls-only middle school serving fifth- to eighth-graders that began 13 years ago after co-founder Sharon Hammel was unhappy with the local school options for her daughter. The school’s 86 students come from 26 ZIP codes and diverse backgrounds. The school hopes to give young girls a reason to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. The education is focused on STEAM — STEM with an arts component.

“One of the primary goals of our curriculum is to develop independent thinkers who can work collaboratively,” communications coordinator Leslie McDaniel said. 

The garden was named The Sharon Hammel Garden after Hammel. It’s on a strip of property that was donated to the school. 

It has been a community effort to get the garden up and running. Both Seattle Girls’ School families and people from the greater community have contributed thousands of volunteer hours. 

The garden features raised beds, ground-level beds, an archway and a greenhouse. Over the winter, seeds will start in the greenhouse to be ready for spring. The garden grows a variety of plants, from kiwis to kale. 

The eight girls who make up the fifth-grade class work in the garden at least once a week. They use the garden as a math laboratory, a healthy eating resource and a food-equity example. The students have “Foodie Friday” each week, during which they make a healthy snack together with foods from the garden. This involves some creativity for the students, whose theme is “Art of Community,” because they are the “most allergic class ever,” with a multitude of different food allergies, said head of school Rafael del Castillo.

Working around those allergies plays into the theme of “understanding the differences between people and knowing how to work with people who are different than you are,” McDaniel said. 

The garden was designed to be a math laboratory. Metal whiteboards line the sides of the raised beds so students can take notes and collect data. 

The garden is an example of the “glocal” movement in education, del Castillo said. 

“We can talk about global issues like food equity but [have] a local connection,” he said. “They’re going to have a whole different appreciation for those issues, having dug in the ground and figuring out how long it takes to grow something.” 

The plan for the garden is to use some produce in the classroom. The rest will be donated to local food banks and to people in the Central Area community and beyond. 

The garden is an oasis within the busy streets of the city, McDaniel said. 

“The idea and the vision is,” she said, “this is going to be a common space for all of the kids to enjoy.”

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