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A bumper crop of summer learning  

‘Deep into the dirt,’ where they are happy

Byron Center — On one of the last Thursday morning gardening sessions of the summer at Countryside Elementary, avid gardener and parent volunteer Christie Koester taught students to plant strawberry seedlings.

“You have to get them deep into the dirt, where they’ll be happy,” she said.

“Here you go, buddy, now you can be happy,” one student said while planting a seedling with one hand and grasping a shovel in the other.

Koester began tending the school’s garden last fall, after collaborating with Principal Cindy Viveen to create the first horticulturist team in partnership with the schools’ Leader in Me program. Interested students had to apply to be part of the team and spent one recess every week in the garden. Their crops include garlic, radishes, pumpkins, potatoes, corn and tomatoes.

When fully grown, the vegetables will be harvested and shared with Countryside families. 

Hoping to continue teaching students, Koester encouraged the community to visit and work in the garden once a week over the summer. Not even raucous wildlife hindered the volunteers’ efforts to maintain the garden and plant new seeds.

“We thought we had to worry about deer getting into our garden over the summer but turns out, the bunnies were voracious,” Koester said.

Once students return for the new school year, a new batch of horticulturalists can apply to join the team. 

Read more from Byron Center: 
Young green thumbs help garden blossom
Fifth- and sixth-graders to start school in new building

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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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