Garden Wishes

A partnership nurtures future college students and emerging teachers

By Natalie Noyes
The sounds of rakes, the smell of water on fresh dirt, and teams of children working together can mean only one thing: a student garden.

The Kellogg Polytechnic Elementary School garden is bigger than most elementary school gardens and features a number of small structures, such as an amphitheater, raised planters and areas for in-ground planting. Hanging from a tree are notes written by the students. These “garden wishes” represent the things they would like to see in the garden, such as watermelons and pumpkins.

For now, the children are proud to grow okra, kale, eggplant, amaranth, basil, tomatoes, chives, peppers, onions, carrots, radishes and cabbages.

The garden is a place where children and Cal Poly Pomona students come together for lessons about science and life. The powerful partnership is launching this year through a $117,000 grant from the Ernest Prete Jr. Foundation.
Beginning in winter quarter, 15 Cal Poly Pomona students from the College of Science will partner with elementary teachers to deliver science lessons while using the garden as a hands-on laboratory. The 15 Prete Fellows will observe classes, assist teachers and co-teach gardening lessons.

Alumna Channel Moore and a few Kellogg students test the effectiveness of their DIY watering jug.
Alumna Channel Moore and a few Kellogg students test the effectiveness of their DIY watering jug.

“This partnership was programmed for kids to learn about science and get them interested and excited about college life. I’ve observed some elementary school classes where children are learning complex science topics. The third- and fourth-grade students were engaged in the discussion, and I was so impressed by that,” says Mohammad Virani, president of the Ernest Prete Jr. Foundation.

Not only will the children learn about science, healthy eating and gardening, but they will also learn about college life from the fellows. This relationship is important to Rabia Minhas, principal of Kellogg Elementary and a Cal Poly Pomona alumna, because she believes in giving her students every opportunity, including pursuing higher education.

Minhas’ passion for the garden program stems from the unique opportunity it gives her students to care for something that is their own.

“It opens up so many doors and possibilities for the kids. Our kids don’t always get that exposure to higher education and they deserve that,” says Minhas (’99, education).

There are many benefits for Cal Poly Pomona students as well. Just ask Channel Moore (’17, environmental biology), who believes the fellowship will allow college students to give to the community and have a meaningful part-time job. Moore, who started working in the garden in 2016, says her time there has been transformational.

“I feel extremely privileged that I get to help mold some of their thoughts on the world when it comes to our Earth,” she says.

Likewise, the incoming Prete Fellows will put their science knowledge into practice as they participate co-creating lessons in science and math that will include components from the garden. The fellows will be involved with the creation of the lesson and also help adapt them for different grade levels, ranging from kindergarten through sixth grade.

Nicole Wickler, research director for the campus’ Center for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, believes in the power of this partnership.

“Our goal is to support Cal Poly Pomona students’ success by integrating their academic interests with an opportunity to engage with the community,” Wickler says. “We’re supporting a pipeline of future STEM educators by introducing the teaching profession as a career option to our undergraduates.”

Her hope is that students of all disciplines will see the benefits of working with kids and consider the teaching profession.

A perfect example of this is Maria Jose Lopez, who came to Cal Poly Pomona as an environmental biology student with the goal of teaching at the college level.

“I never, never would have imagined I would be working with kids,” Lopez says. “It was such a life-changer because kids are so eager to learn and capable of understanding if you translate the material to their level.”

Her passion for working in agriculture and environmental biology remain, but her plans have changed a bit. Lopez plans to enter a teaching credential program after she graduates from Cal Poly Pomona, and her new calling is teaching grade school.

“Impact on a child stems from early childhood experiences, and I want to be there. I want to impact their lives in terms of what they are learning and what they see themselves becoming, because they can become anything.”