Mendoza Elementary School Garden Images

The Interview

Name of school: Mendoza Elementary
Contact: Fredi Buffmire, Principal
Location: Mesa, AZ
Climate/growing season/zone: Arid, southwest, October-June
Grades that use the garden: K-6
Interview Attendees: Vicki Massey, Ann Kittelson, Robin Treat, Fredi Buffmire

Vision / Mission

From where did the idea originate?
Grants and student projects during early years (1985) of school and wanting to serve the “mature, smart” child.

Why did you decide to build it?
To create a living environment that would motivate children to learn in varied ways.

To provide a place that was a living laboratory in the urban desert setting, that was friendly and not sterile, and that could be modified and shared with the community over time.

To provide a place where children can do long-term botany experiments.

What were your goals and vision?
To give each classroom, grade level or interest group space, time and opportunity to participate in the creation of a garden, its maintenance, cycles, uses, and needs.

Who were the instrumental players? Who makes up your team? Who stayed committed and why?
Vicki Massey, Ann Kittelson, Robin Treat. Over time, most of the staff has stayed committed to varying degrees…I believe they see the joy and enthusiasm that the children share and the beauty and tranquility that comes with such activities.

How does the garden reflect the school’s values, educational philosophy, and mission?
The gardens reflect the child-centeredness we strive for and their individuality reflects our belief in the worth of each child and their potential for learning and success. We also believe that our garden and pond and the work taking care of them build skills and knowledge that are life skills.

Funding the Garden

How did you get funding? What sources did you approach? What kind of response did you get?
Service, learning grants. Today the gardens are funded by tax credit donations from parents and community members and staff.

Any fundraising advice you can offer an educator who is starting out in developing a school garden?
Start small, add each year. Capitalize on university extension resources, high school Ag departments, local botanical gardens, donations from local nurseries, garden clubs…perhaps have each grade level work with a resource and share information…tie in curriculum (insects, water cycle, plants, biology, state studies, ecology, recycling)

What other funding resources (aside from outright funds) were important, and how did you access them?
PTO, Boeing sponsored project day…many corporations will reimburse employees for helping schools with projects (constructing, maintaining beds)

Design Process

How did you include everyone in the process?
Garden sign-ups annually…many little gardens. Children each take a small part and rotate jobs. We have teams of students.

Did you work with a professional designer? Who did your drawings?
No, we did not work with a professional designer. We had a contractor help us with building the pond.

Building the Garden

How was construction handled/coordinated?
Parent volunteers and students

How did you organize planting?
Groups of parents and volunteers chose the type of garden-pizza, salsa, flower, etc. they wanted. Students determine the plants, herbs, etc. that they want to plant and they must read the labels.

We have Adopt-a-Bed program that involves every kid; it’s student-driven and provides ownership.

What ways were the children involved in the process?
We have a day where elderly come visit the garden and the kids do activities with the folks. We have Eagle Scouts and 4-H Clubs involved.

How did you connect garden construction to the curriculum?
Books helped such as “Math in the Garden” and “School Gardens” by Coop. Extension, and Internet resources

The Physical Garden

What is the size of your largest garden?
5,000 sq. ft.

What types of plants/crops are included?
herbs, veggies, flowers, etc.

Do you have any themes?
Pizza, herb, salsa gardens

What do the children say about the garden?
Some students have said that’s what they like best about school.

How has it changed over the years?
It’s bigger.

Teaching and Learning in the Garden

Is the garden used primarily for one subject or is it integrated across the curriculum?
The garden is integrated across the curriculum.

How do you apply the garden across the curriculum? Give an example of a lesson or activity that you enact using the garden.
Area of the garden (math), measurement, plants cycles, decomposing, soil analysis, plant growth

How do the kids respond? How do the parents respond?

How are classes managed in the garden space?
Groups have certain spaces and jobs.

How do you know that the garden is an effective learning tool? Or, what assessments do you use, if any, to evaluate the garden’s success as an effective teaching/learning tool?
Creates a positive feeling toward the school.

Maintaining the Garden

How do you assign chores? How are the kids involved?
Rotate watering.

How is the community involved?
Parents and volunteers


What is your advice to keeping the garden alive year after year?
Sustainability is the toughest part. Each new school year classes start over. Kids are in charge of their own plot.

What kind of network do you have for support?
Parent donations, E.C.A., local corporations (e.g., Boeing has Good Neighbor Day), custodial support, landscaping once per month

What about garden expansion?
We started another garden at Shepard (our upper school).

How do you deal with challenges like staff turnover and vandalism?
Vandalism…that’s life! Go with the flow.

Do you have any kind of evaluation or self-assessment you implement as sort of a check-and-balance?
Nothing formal.

What advice do you have for teachers considering initiating a school garden?
Just do it! Don’t wait for all conditions to be perfect—just start and go with what you have. It may take years for the ‘vision’ to take its final form.

Don’t let your own limitations determine whether or not you should start a school garden. The students play a huge role and you have to just go with it.