- Sponsorship -

Teachers Team Up to ‘Design Think’ Their Way to Cross-Curriculum Project

Forest Hills Eastern Could Become an ‘Edible Schoolyard’

Lynn Cvengros is always looking for writing and research opportunities for her students. When the Forest Hills Eastern High School Advanced Placement Language teacher came across an article about the “edible schoolyard” concept, she saw abundant potential.

In the article, renowned restaurateur, activist and author Alice Waters recounted her experience working with an urban California school district to create a garden on vacant land that is used to teach all subjects. Not only that, it serves as a gathering place for community functions, inspires students to learn where their food comes from, and even how to prepare it for themselves and others.

Waters, owner of the famed Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., founded the Edible Schoolyard Project more than 20 years ago. It currently boasts a network of nearly 5,000 schools, businesses and other organizations around the world, and includes a teacher training academy and a “lab school” in Berkeley. Locally, five Grand Rapids Public Schools participate in the project.

Design, Think, Plan, Do

In another wing of the high school, some former students of science teacher Dolores Keeley told her about Cvengros’ edible schoolyard idea. Those students had participated in several projects in Keeley’s class that related to gardening on school property: soil testing, studying and planting native plants, constructing bluebird boxes and adding vegetation to the school’s detention pond to better absorb water runoff.

Keeley was excited to talk with Cvengros. She has been involved in Groundswell, a local initiative aimed at getting teachers, students and businesses involved in environmental stewardship.

“We got together and discovered we had this shared interest, not only in the garden but of its potential beyond students,” Keeley said. “We got really excited about that.”

Senior Pearl Chapman, foreground, with teachers Lynn Cvengros (left) and Dolores Keeley amid raspberry and blueberry rows on Forest Hills Eastern High land. The berries were planted through a grant from the Forest Hills Education Foundation as a “seed” project of the edible schoolyard
Senior Pearl Chapman, foreground, with teachers Lynn Cvengros (left) and Dolores Keeley amid raspberry and blueberry rows on Forest Hills Eastern High land. The berries were planted through a grant from the Forest Hills Education Foundation as a “seed” project of the edible schoolyard

That’s when Cvengros brought up design thinking.

“One thing you hear a lot is ‘not everyone is going to be a designer, but everyone can learn to design think,’ ” she said. “It’s about creating a mindset for people to innovate. We see design thinking as the process for students to develop our edible schoolyard.”

Thanks to a grant from Forest Hills’ “Destination: Innovation” campaign, the pair traveled to California last November to tour the first edible schoolyard, sit in on design thinking classes at Stanford and visit Nueva school, a k-12 private school in the Bay area that is structured around design thinking.

Cvengros developed a design-think project in the spring to begin research for the edible schoolyard. More than 70 juniors researched and wrote reports on soil types; landscape architecture; irrigation; and how to maintain the garden when school is not in session, to name just a few aspects.

In order to complete their research, they interviewed local experts such as landscape architects and organic farmers, state lawmakers and community leaders. Finally, to an audience of school staffers, teachers and their students, “they pitched what they would need to do and how they would do it,” Cvengros said.

‘I’m Excited to See This Grow’

Pearl Chapman was one of those students.

“It was nice to communicate with other students in a new way,” the senior said. “It was very idea-based, and it’s not that often you get experience like that in your courses. I appreciated having something solid we could produce with the skills we’ve been learning in our class.

“It’s been really fulfilling and really motivating,” she added. “I’m excited to see this grow throughout the school.”

Keeley also got a grant from the Forest Hills Education Foundation to plant 100 blueberry and 100 raspberry patches as a “seed” project of the edible schoolyard. Ninth-grade honors biology students used the design thinking process to determine where to plant, how to fertilize and what to anticipate in the harvesting.

Teacher Dolores Keeley inspects raspberry bushes planted in the spring by students on Forest Hills Eastern High property
Teacher Dolores Keeley inspects raspberry bushes planted in the spring by students on Forest Hills Eastern High property

The two teachers also attended a design-thinking summit this summer at Grand Valley State University to flesh out more of their vision. The hope is to wrap up planning and break ground next spring, then to evolve over time however design thinking leads the project.

“I have visions of us having a greenhouse, doing seed germination studies, middle-schoolers learning to cook and families coming to share dinners of food grown and prepared by students,” Keeley said. “What I saw in Berkeley was truly inspirational.”

Added Cvengros: “Other teachers are also starting to become interested. Our art teacher wants to coordinate with students to help design the gardens, and the industrial arts teacher wants to take the lead in designing and building beds. … The sky’s the limit with this.”


Edible Schoolyard Project

GVSU’s design thinking initiative

Forest Hills Public Schools Destination: Innovation Campaign

- Sponsorship -
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


Learning from a place full of living things

Rebecca Perry and her class of eager kindergartners spent their morning exploring the newly redone Living Lab at Zinser Elementary...

Mapping the road to learning

Elementary teachers Billie Freeland and Nicole Andreas are at the forefront of using a curriculum designed to further educational goals, regardless of whether students are in person or online...

‘Even though it is extra work, I don’t mind the changes’

Teachers of specialty subjects — art, music and physical education — share their experiences after the pandemic prompts changes to class procedures...

Bus drivers work as daytime cleaners during pandemic

It’s also a plus to have familiar faces around school...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Two schools closed due to COVID cases

Northern Hills Middle and Northern High schools closed their doors temporarily this week due to students testing positive for COVID-19...

Teaching from a distance: ‘they have to learn to be patient’

Lana Tran, a 26-year district teacher, is in her regular classroom this year, but behind a locked door. Her 18 students are at home, their parents having chosen distance learning...

The year of learning differently

SNN asked a sampling of students from across the county how it’s going for them so far in a school year of multiple instruction models...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU