Woodstock Elementary School gets a new shed thanks to volunteers

Portland, Ore (KOIN) – Instead of children laughing that came from Woodstock Elementary School playground on Saturday, thumping and sawing sounds could be heard as volunteers assembled the school’s new kindergarten warehouse.

The shed is just the latest addition to the school garden, which has developed in recent years. Second-grade teacher Jesse Hunter first came to Woodstock Elementary School in 2017 and upon his arrival he became the school’s kindergarten coordinator.

The school already had several beds in the garden, but Hunter made improvements. He moved the beds to a new place, added more beds and set up a pollinator garden.

Students and adults work together in the pollinator kindergarten at Woodstock Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Jesse Hunter

His latest project, adding a garden shed, was approved by principal Seth Johnson in 2019. Hunter received funding from the Teachers and Parents Association and was all set to start construction, but then the plague hit and the shed was suspended. In the fall of 2021, Hunter began to make progress again with the shed and had to raise more funds to cover the higher price of the materials.

Eventually his efforts paid off and on Saturday and Sunday volunteers set up the shed.

“This is going to make a critical difference for our garden,” Hunter said. “It will not only contain tools, but educational equipment, so there will be educational kits for each class.”

According to him, the shed will contain measuring tapes and hand lenses and identification cards for insects, writing boards, knee pads and more.

Sisters in the Brotherhood, a group from the Northwest Carpenters Association made up of identifying companies and notebooks, volunteers to build the shed. The group works to recruit and retain more women working in carpentry professions.

Rose Schwartz is on the sister committee of the fraternity nurses, she is a journey carpenter at Local 146, and teaches for the apprenticeship program at the Pacific Northwest Institute of Carpenters.

She said volunteer projects like the shed built at Woodstock Elementary School serve as important opportunities for trainees to learn new skill sets.

Member of Sisters in the Brotherhood Saws a board for the new kindergarten warehouse at Woodstock Elementary School on Saturday, March 12, 2022. (KOIN)

“For people who are just starting their apprenticeship, just get more experience reading a tape measure and the ability to look at a set of blueprints and see something on paper as if it’s coming to life,” she explained.

Schwartz said volunteer projects could also serve as a way to make their group more visible in the community and recruit more people for carpentry.

She said the group is always open to opportunities to volunteer and find projects they can help build.

“It’s cool to see people really apply the skills they learned in class and now they’re doing it here. So for me it’s also part of the reward,” she said.

Hunter said the warehouse the sisters build in the fraternity will help students thrive. Already, the kindergarten provides Hunter and other teachers with opportunities to teach children math skills and applied sciences.

During Black History Month in February, the garden introduced several African-Americans who made a change in the fight for social justice and pushed for expanded gardening.

During Black History Month, Woodstock Elementary School’s kindergarten featured kindergarten heroes: African-Americans who had a lasting impact on gardening. This poster of the Garden Hero shows former First Lady Michelle Obama. The photo was taken on March 12, 2022. (KOIN)

Some examples include former First Lady Michelle Obama who pushed children to learn more about gardening, nutrition and food value; And Ron Finley who is a fashion designer in Los Angeles who helped change the law in Los Angeles to allow people to plant fruits and vegetables in the land between the sidewalk and the curb.

Woodstock School Kindergarten also allows students to learn about life cycles, pollination, nutrition and how to be environmental stewards.

“I personally really believe it’s one thing to teach kids about climate change in an abstract way, but to make kids really care about the environment and become environmental stewards, you need to provide them with opportunities to take care of a piece of land themselves,” he said.

This is one thing that parent Stephen Grico found most important in kindergarten. His son Hudson is in Hunter’s second grade.

He said it’s exciting as a parent to see Hunter’s vision for a school kindergarten unite. Grico sees it as a valuable asset in teaching his son things like where his food comes from, how he grows and how growing different foods can affect climate change.

Now that the family is going to the farmers market in Woodstock, Griko said his son knows the produce grew before it hit the stalls.

“It really provides a way for kids to start thinking how they can, because they are the future stewards of our planet, grow and change and develop a new way of thinking about food and how we grow it,” Grico said.

According to him, he is happy that the teachers’ union has decided to invest in the shed. He says it helps the community know that the school is committed to its kindergarten program and plans to keep it in place for a long time and could serve as a launching point for more garden projects in the future.

Food grown in Woodstock Elementary School kindergarten is used in the cafeterias of Portland Public Schools. During the school year, any unused produce can be sent home with the students.

In the summer, volunteers take care of the garden beds and can harvest the fruits and vegetables.

Hunter said that if the school ever gets to the point where it produces an excessive amount of fruits and vegetables, it will be happy that some of them will donate to a local food pantry.

Hunter previously helped build a kindergarten at Lent K-5 School in Portland before coming to Woodstock. He said there are more than 100 school gardens in the Portland metro area and hopes this is a growing trend.

“It’s a national movement so you know, it’s not just going out to kindergarten and you know, planting and doing some fun activities. It’s really an integral part of the school community,” he said.

Anyone interested in donating to Woodstock Elementary School Kindergarten or volunteering at Kindergarten Work Parties can send an email to Hunter at jhunter@pps.net.

Schwartz said people interested in joining a carpenters institute in the Northwest as an apprentice can find more information at PNCI.org.

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