Garden Delights at Otay Elementary

Students, staff, parents and community members helped commemorate Otay Elementary’s Community Garden at a recent festival of food and music. The event recognized students for academic achievement and celebrated the accomplishments of the ‘Organic Hispanic Garden Club.’ The club, which is guided by teacher Richard Sanchez, teamed with parents and community members to revitalize the garden, which had fallen into disrepair over the years.

Sanchez said students are enthused about the process of growing food from the beginning, from seed, to vegetable, or harvest. “They see the importance and nutritional value of the food,” Sanchez said. “We actually wash it, cut it, and eat it in the classroom. The community has really taken ownership also. They do most of the manual labor, the watering and the weeding, on the weekends and during the breaks.”

Otay students have also used iPads to create informative videos about the garden for other classes. “The students are really more aware of the importance of healthy eating and making better choices in their diet,” Otay Principal Rosario Villareal said. “They really enjoy the planting, the taking care of the garden itself, and enjoying the food afterward. They are able to take some of these vegetables home for dinner, and have conversations with their family over how that food went from the garden to their plate.”

The garden was renovated and reopened with an outdoor classroom component and greenhouse using recycled materials. On a daily basis, the students make organic compost using the school’s uneaten fruits and vegetable matter. The students who work the garden model “Traits to be Great” and core values for career and college readiness.

Student Kevyn Delgado was in the fourth grade when he began working in the garden. Last May, when the garden’s sunflowers were especially tall, he noted, “We are trying new things, tomatoes, strawberries—we even learned that eating eight strawberries a day helps reduce the probability of getting sick from cancer.”

At the garden ribbon-cutting ceremony, Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, District leaders, and Latino Activist Karlos Paez of the B-Side Players and Maiz, and DJ Unite (Hugh Knight) of the Tribe of Kings Sound System also helped celebrate Otay students’ success on the California Standards Test. Through the years, Otay Elementary has earned a host of education honors, such as the National Center for Urban School Transformation ‘Excellence in Education’ award and Title I Academic Achievement award, and recognition as a California Distinguished School and National Blue Ribbon School.

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