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Young green thumbs help garden blossom

Effort has Leader In Me ties

Byron Center — Instead of running outside to the swing sets for recess, a group of  Countryside Elementary third-graders ran to the school’s garden. 

In her floppy sun hat, parent volunteer Christie Koester met the students with small cups of lemonade flavored with mint that had been planted, grown and harvested by students in that very garden. 

“Cheers to ourselves, for all your hard work this year. I’m super proud of you all for being part of the first horticulturist team,” Koester told them. 

Koester approached Principal Cindy Viveen last fall to volunteer to maintain the school’s existing garden. Viveen took her up on the offer and expanded it to include students. 



“Ms. Viveen really dreamed it up as a way to incorporate our school garden into Countryside’s Leader in Me program, where students take on different roles and jobs to serve as leaders in the school,” Koester said. 

Countryside’s Leader in Me program is also based on seven habits of leadership. Interested students had to apply to be part of the team, once in the fall and again in the spring, to spend one recess every week in the garden.

Countryside Elementary fourth-graders plant sweet corn seeds in the garden

On Thursday mornings Koester met with a group of third- and fourth-graders during their recess for an educational planting session, adding new plants to the garden each week. 

The team has since planted garlic, radishes, pumpkins, potatoes, corn and tomatoes.

Fourth-grader Harper Margul said she and her family weren’t “plant people” before she and her sister, third-grader Avery, joined the horticulturist team.

“Now our dad is getting pots to plant tulips and the seeds we bring home from school,” Harper said. 

Maggie Sullivan had never seen where potatoes come from or how they are planted. “We’ve learned that different seeds need different things, like soil, temperatures and amounts of water,” said the fourth-grader. 

Koester said she enjoyed seeing students’ interest at the beginning of year and watching the fruits of their labor grow — literally.

“Gardens are learning environments, places for emotional regulation and working toward your goals,” Koester said. “The students are fantastic. Every week they arrive with excitement, enthusiasm and questions. I have really loved my Thursday mornings.”

Based on requests from students, Koester plans to make time over the summer for them to help in the garden before returning to school in the fall. 

Viveen said the effort “has ‘blossomed’ into more than we imagined.”

Fourth grade horticulturists at Countryside Elementary take dried green bean seed pods to plant at home

Read more from Byron Center: 
A hands-on lesson in how life works  
‘You have to know where you are & where you want to go’

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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