Monday, March 1, 2021


Western Thinking: How does your garden grow?


Last week, I received an email from Marlene Long, who is one of Colusa County Office of Education’s (CCOE) Special Education teachers at Johnson Junior High School. In addition to letting me know how she felt about a meeting that we had the day before, Mrs. Long also wrote about her fellow Special Education teacher at Johnson Junior High, Jennifer Wayman.

Mrs. Long wanted me to know about Mrs. Wayman’s unique approach to developing learning opportunities for her students. She went on to describe how Mrs. Wayman organized a student built and tended garden, a recycling program emphasizing job skills, and an afterschool arts and crafts program.

In fact, Mrs. Long spoke so highly of Mrs. Wayman’s efforts; I knew that I needed to see for myself this teacher who, as Mrs. Long put it, should be “showcased.” So, I contacted the school and made arrangements to visit during the time that Mrs. Wayman’s eighth-grade students would be working in the garden.

When I arrived at the students’ garden, it was a bright afternoon, the sun was shining, and the students were obviously content to be working outside in their “classroom”. I met up with Mrs.

Wayman and William Wolfenbarger, one of CCOE’s para-educators, so they could walk me through the garden and talk to me about the student activities. Mrs. Wayman said that she was not a gardener, but she was inspired and mentored by Paul Cimino, Johnson Junior High seventh and eighth grade English Language Arts teacher, to use his model in developing her students’ garden.

As in Mr. Cimino’s model, Mrs. Wayman’s students participate in a classroom component, during which they are schooled in the concepts that they will use in the garden that day, and a student is designated as “foreman”. The foreman is responsible for pulling his team together for their work outside and keeping the students on task. Mrs. Wayman went on to explain how the garden provides a hands-on lab that teaches life skills, job skills, art opportunities, as well as several core-curriculum concepts.

1420876986828As I walked around, I observed students with their class notes lining out projects for the day. Everyone was busy with the winter crop. Some students were preparing beds for planting, some were weeding, some were building additional beds, and others were preparing new crops for planting. After years of being around gardens, the students even taught me a thing or two. Having never planted potatoes, I didn’t know that the seed potato must be sliced into smaller pieces, and that each piece must contain at least two “eyes” and be no less than an inch in diameter. Who knew? The foreman did! He repeatedly and accurately recited instructions to the other students who joined in the planting.

Class was ending, so I needed to say goodbye to Mrs. Wayman and her class. I explained how impressed I was with her students, and the level of understanding that they took away from her class and garden. I would have liked to spend more time with the students to see firsthand their recycling program that, in addition to teaching job skills, generates profits that the students use to buy supplies and games. I also wanted to sit in on Mrs. Wayman’s After School Program. Given what I learned during my tour of the students’ garden, who knows what I would have learned while they created their arts and crafts projects? However, I had other things at Johnson Junior High that I wanted to see.So, after leaving Mrs. Wayman’s garden, I took a walk around the campus.

I wanted to see Mr. Cimino’s class and his garden as well. In addition to being the model for Mrs. Wayman’s garden, I hear that he runs a pretty tight ship and that his students also raise poultry.

As I toured their area, his students demonstrated the manners that Mr. Cimino displays himself, as well as reinforces every day. I was impressed by their respect for me, as a visitor, and for each other in and out of the classroom.

Once I left Mr. Cimino’s garden, I continued my tour. I was looking for solar panels. I had heard about the installation and benefits of the school. As I walked around looking for the panels, I was impressed by the overall serenity of the campus. It was clean and bright and obviously well cared-for. That sort of caring and forward thinking was also evident in their solar energy system. The bright blue panels were well blended into rooftops and shade structures, and I am pretty certain, I would not have noticed the installation, had I not been looking.

After my tour of the campus, I stopped by the office to say goodbye to Principal Blake Kitchen. As Mr. Kitchen wrapped up a discussion with one of his teachers, I had the opportunity to sit with a couple of students who were also waiting to speak with him. Even though they seemed to be a little more anxious about their upcoming conversation than I, the young men were cordial and forthcoming with an adult whom they had never met before.
Soon, it was my turn to talk to Mr. Kitchen. I gladly thanked him for allowing my visit and told him how impressed I was with his students, staff, and campus during my impromptu and hastily planned tour.

Finally, as I was leaving the campus, I spotted Mrs. Long. I waved goodbye and gave her a knowing look. One that hopefully said, “I saw what you were trying to tell me about Mrs. Wayman… In addition, you were right. Thank you, very much.”

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