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Wright Students grow and learn through Garden to Cafeteria program

The sound of third grade laughter echoes through the courtyard of JB Wright Elementary on a warm December afternoon. There are no games being played, rather a host of students working diligently in Wright's garden to harvest crops they have been growing throughout the semester. The plan is to pick, sort and clean the produce so that it can be served as a salad at lunch for fellow classmates.

"We had a great beneficiary in the Tucson community that wanted to give us the garden," explained 3rd grade ELD teacher Robin Hayes, who is in charge of maintaining the garden. "As a result of our garden being built, we got connected to the U of A intern program."

The program at the University of Arizona is known as the Community and School Garden Program, which is run through the School of Geography & Development. Wright is one of about a dozen schools in the district who host sites where students can learn to grow and harvest sustainable food sources. Moses Thompson coordinates the relationship between the U of A and TUSD.

"I'd say [the program] is more about students learning what it feels like to work collaboratively, to cooperate, to communicate, to plan things out, to see a project all the way through," stated Thompson. "At the foundation, it's about getting kids excited to come to school, contextualizing their learning and getting kids excited about eating healthy."

The students washed their hands, inspected them for any scratches that could potentially contaminate the produce, and then judiciously picked, sheared, arranged and washed the crops of spinach, lettuce and chard that was used the next day in their "Outrageous Orange Salad." They also plucked oranges from two orange trees with the assistance of multiple U of A students who were volunteering.

"[Kids] definitely teach you about what they need when they're growing and learning," said volunteer coordinator Casey Knox, a U of A student who had been helping Wright tend the garden throughout the semester. "Vice-versa, you learn a lot about what you need when you're growing and learning." Knox admitted that prior to this semester she had never worked with kids before.

Ms. Hayes stressed the importance of the project for a school like Wright, which is above 98% free and reduced lunch for its student body.

"This group of kids is able to see where food comes from; to be a part of planting, growing, harvesting and ultimately taking food into the cafeteria and serving it to their classmates," she said. "It's just such an amazing experience and I'm just so happy to be a part of it."

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