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Garden plots transform Richmond's Dixon Elementary
It may take a village to raise a child, but having dedicated teachers certainly helps.
And A.B. Dixon Elementary School principal Bill Juhasz says he’s fortunate to have a staff willing to step up and volunteer to lead or assist with various projects, among them Denise Tong-Vargas and Kevin Vines.
Tong-Vargas and Vines oversee two of the school’s environmental initiatives—the Dragon Flies garden club and a composting program, respectively. The latter is a pilot project in concert with NorthWest Organics, a Lytton-based company that supplies the composting bins and picks up the waste on a weekly basis.
The two programs, says Juhasz, help to plant the seeds of learning and community caring emphasized at Dixon.
“They teach the kids about sustainability and environmental stewardship,” explains Juhasz. “Our world is much more aware of the need to take care of the earth and who better to do that than the kids themselves. It’s their future.”
Known affectionately as the godmother of the Dragon Flies, Fiona MacNicol started the garden club several years ago with strong support from Prickly Pear, a garden/home decor store and plant nursery in Steveston which contributed many colourful and hearty growths (herbs, flowers, vegetables and plants) in the lush organic garden.
Under MacNicols’ guidance, Dixon was one of the first schools to have its own garden plots, it has transformed greatly since, says Tong-Vargas.
“(MacNicol) really demonstrated leadership and so the club evolved beyond the gates and fences of the garden,” says Tong-Vargas. “I am grateful that I could learn from her and can now be part of this process, as a leader and learner. Many Grade 12 students from McMath and Hugh Boyd now also get involved in our garden works along with their eco student clubs. It is a privilege that teachers, parents and student leaders can continue on this journey of planting seeds in the livelihood of both nature and people from our community.”
Tong-Vargas grew up with little understanding or appreciation for gardening, but is now learning along with her students. She particularly enjoys collaborating on community projects, and feels it is particularly important to promote and support local growing initiatives. To that end, Dixon has applied for a $1,000 grant through B.C. Hydro’s Green Champions program.
The students are also reaping what they sow from the garden. Juhasz says the harvest was bountiful last year that salads were a regular part of the diet at Dixon.
“It was very appealing for the students to know that it was a product of a lot of hard work,” he says. “It made them feel very good. It used to be just tree-huggers that recognized the importance of looking after our environment. Now we know it’s all our responsibility.”
Part of Dixon’s ongoing recycling efforts, the composting program is set to begin next week. Students in Kevin Vines’ combined Grade 5-6 class. Each school day, at the end of the lunch period, they’ll collect small collection bins filled with food scraps and other recyclables from each classroom and then dump those into a pair of larger composting bins outside of the school.
“It will be similar to Richmond’s green bin program,” explains Vines. “We already have a recycling program in place the school, but this is an effort to improve upon it. I think having a very proactive staff here helps us educate and inform the students, and hopefully improves their future world by giving them a chance to see the differences their efforts (to recycle) can make. This a student-led program. We’re just walking them through the steps.”