Desert Vista Garden in Ahwatukee a boost for learning

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[Source: Coty Dolores Miranda, the Arizona Republic] – An unused patch of ground on the Desert Vista High School campus is being planted with native plants and trees that organizers hope will not only be eye-pleasing but assist biotechnology and honors biology students with plants, bird and insect research. Students, staff and parents recently began planting Blue Palo Verde, Foothills Palo Verde, desert lavender, desert bluebells, wolfberry and jojoba, and other species they obtained through an Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Fund grant and monies from campus student groups and staff. The $9,555 grant resulted from the proposal written last year by guidance counselor Josephine Levy and parent Susan Norton, who have been working on the garden concept since 2010. This is Norton’s fourth school-garden proposal, all of which earned grants.

With a horticulture degree from Texas A&M, Norton has worked as a teen volunteer coordinator at Desert Botanical Garden, and is working with the Arizona State University engineering school as a K-12 outreach coordinator. The mother of three — 2012 Desert Vista grad Christopher Norton, Desert Vista junior Regan Norton and Kyrene Altadeña seventh-grader Leah — said she has always enjoyed community gardens. “I like to see any garden that brings people together to nourish the earth,” she said. Her Ahwatukee garden endeavors started with the concept, design and grant proposal for Monte Vista Elementary School six years ago when her children were students there. The school received $10,000 from the Arizona Game and Fish Heritage Fund.

“In that first grant proposal, I said I hoped to promote habitat gardens at other schools, and shortly after, Esperanza started one.” she said. “I moved out of state for a while, and when I returned, I worked in project management for Colina Elementary’s garden. It’s nice to see the first garden inspired other people.” The Desert Vista garden idea started serendipitously when Norris noticed a desert-landscaper certification from the Desert Botanical Garden posted on Levy’s guidance-counselor office wall. “Susan is really the driving force behind this project and it wouldn’t have happened without her,” Levy said, noting how notification of the grant propelled others on campus to become involved. “This is a remarkable demonstration of student, staff and community efforts to build something that benefits everyone,” she said. “Our hope is to show how a native desert landscape can be both educational and beautiful.”

The 76- by 67- by 44-foot Desert Vista Heritage Garden and green space makes use of an existing walkway between the gymnasium and cafeteria, and will offer space for outdoor classroom instruction and “personal solitude,” she said. “It is an awkward space, but what we like is it’s a highly-visible spot in the school so students can’t help but walk by it,” Norton said. “We’re putting in 11 benches to encourage students and staff to come use the space.” Student groups have sponsored the benches, with ceramic-tile artwork by Desert Vista alum Colleen Conlin and Ahwatukee mosaic artist Jeanne Rademacher. Solar lighting for the area, an idea of teacher Dan Zavaleta, will be installed by his technology students.

Esperanza school to sell commemorative bricks for its garden

[Source: Coty Dolores Miranda, AZ Republic] – When Kyrene de la Esperanza fifth-grade teacher Sylvia Rios goes through the elementary school’s 2-year-old Discovery Garden, it’s a walk down memory lane. Lining the meandering pea-gravel path are engraved bricks honoring some of the students she has taught the past 14 years. Her two daughters – Gabriella, who attended Esperanza, and Liliana, a first-grader – share her pride in the garden and the engraved bricks that were first installed last year.

“As a teacher, it’s exciting for me to walk through and see the engraved bricks of former or current Esperanza families and staff members,” she said. “I’ve witnessed students in the garden and the first thing they look at are the bricks.”

In 2006, Esperanza applied to the Arizona Game and Fish Department for a $10,000 Heritage Fund grant, funded by Lottery ticket sales. The school received it in May 2007. The following spring, after construction of three new Esperanza classrooms, the Discovery Garden began taking shape with the help of parents, staff and community volunteers as well as $5,000 in private donations and another $10,000 of in-kind donations for plantings and landscaping.

Though other Ahwatukee elementary schools, such as Kyrene de las Lomas and Kyrene de los Cerritos, also have gardens, Esperanza’s is unusual with its 25-foot pond and pump to recycle water in a free-falling stream over rocks – a feature made possible with the assistance of Paul Holderman, Pond Gnome founder and creator of the Phoenix Zoo koi pond [to read the full article, click here].