UT Elementary School to restore classroom gardens with $2,500 grant

Brooke Ontiveros

UT Elementary School, a research-based charter school that serves prekindergarten to fifth grade, lost its classroom gardens two years ago. Thanks to a $2,500 grant, the school plans to restore the gardens by next semester.

The elementary school is run by and draws on resources from the University. The school lost its gardens to create room for construction trucks to park during renovations. Last week, the elementary school received a $2,500 Healthy Living mini grant from the Austin Public Health Department to restore its gardens, said Sharon Yarbrough, director of development and communications for the two UT charter schools.

“Many of our students come from apartment housing with very little green space,” said Rebecca Vore, the wellness teacher at the elementary school. “One of our students said the only space he ever had to play on was a little culvert ditch near his apartment. So when he got out in the garden, he really enjoyed it.”

Yarbrough said the school will take the grant to begin building the gardens and call for donations to supplement the rest. The gardens will be reconstructed by fall, she said.

Before receiving the grant, the elementary school aimed for $8,500 in funding through HornRaiser, and have currently collected $620, according to the HornRaiser website.

Yarbrough said many students retain information longer when they get a hands-on opportunity to do things, which the gardens provide.

“For students who just don’t get all the information by being spoken to, when they get out there and get dirty and get their hands in it they remember it longer, and they engage with it more,” Yarbrough said.

Vore said that the original gardens allowed students to physically observe the life cycle of ladybugs and the nutrition cycle in the gardens.


Political communications freshman Cindy Munoz said she thinks it is valuable for kids to understand the way plants grow in nature.

“I also loved the feeling of planting roses and flowers,” Munoz said. “I am excited that they will have their gardens back and can really understand how nature works.”

Students grew a variety of herbs and vegetables, such as sage, rosemary, kale and potatoes, Vore said. 

“Students got to learn all the things you can do with cucumbers, green beans and tomatoes we would produce,” Vore said. “We would make salads for them, or they would make them themselves.”

The school cafeteria also used the produce, and every two months on Saturday morning, fourth and fifth graders would take their harvest to the downtown farmers’ market to make the gardens a self-sustaining project, Vore said.

Yarbrough said produce also went to student families in need.

“They were able to put (food) in a little bag to bring home with students whose parents had said that they would like a little extra food in their household,” Yarbrough said.

Vore said the elementary school is also trying to create wildlife gardens, such as bird gardens.

“We want to eventually have the school be a school within gardens,” Vore said. “We’re going to start our first project by reinstalling our vegetable and herb gardens in the front of our building.”