Charter Oak Receives Thousands in Funding for Gardening Program

Charter Oak's learning garden is used as outdoor classroom space. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

West Hartford’s Charter Oak International Academy is the recipient of a “Connecticut Grown for Connecticut Kids’ grant from the state’s Department of Agriculture.

By Ronni Newton

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture announced earlier this month that more than $450,000 has been awarded to public school districts, early childcare providers, nonprofits, and small businesses in order to develop farm-to-school programs, and included among the recipients is West Hartford’s Charter Oak International Academy, which has received $11,000 to support the school’s learning garden.

This year there were 32 recipients of the “Connecticut Grown for Connecticut Kids Grant,” which was established by the legislature during the 2021 special session. According to the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, the awards “increase the availability of local foods in child nutrition programs, allow educators to use hands-on educational techniques to teach students about nutrition and farm-to-school connections, sustain relationships with local farmers and producers, enrich the educational experience of students, improve the health of children in the state, and enhance the state’s economy.”

Liz Nascimento, International Baccalaureate coordinator and lead grant writer at Charter Oak, and Kim Hughes, PTO co-president and co-director of root2RISE, applied for the grant.

“As an International Baccalaureate (IB) World School we believe in an inquiry-based learning model where our students can explore global issues with an emphasis on the environment and sustainability,” Nascimento said in an announcement of the grant. “It was important for us to develop a plan to integrate garden-based education into the school day and within one of our units of inquiry. Each student Pre-K through grade 5 will participate in an assured learning experience that is inclusive, culturally relevant, and related to the garden habitat.”

root2RISE seeks to ensure ALL children in the West Hartford community have access to meaningful, empowering and culturally relevant outdoor learning experiences while staying true to our values around equity, anti-racism, stewardship and community. Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

Charter Oak’s Learning Habitat Garden is an example of the type of initiate promoted by root2RISE, which includes the following in its belief statement: “root2RISE is committed to promoting equity and access to the outdoors and we are dedicated to creating inclusive outdoor spaces, building awareness and uplifting diverse voices in outdoor learning.”

State Rep. Kate Farrar (D-West Hartford), represents the 20th State House District, where Charter Oak is located. “Farm-to-school programs provide benefits to our students, families, and environment,” she said in a statement. “This grant will provide Charter Oak International Academy with the resources to educate students about the connection with fresh, healthy food and local producers.” Farrar said she was proud to support the funding of the grant program.

“This innovative program teaches our students about agriculture, our environment, and the food chain,” said state Sen. Derek Slap (D-West Hartford), who also supported the grant program. “I’m extremely encouraged that our community, local children, and farms will all benefit through this grant.

The Department of Agriculture said the program received 72 applications in the most recent cycle, totaling $1,022,285 in requested grant funds. The $452,268 awarded to 32 recipients is double what was awarded in the previous cycle.

“Response to the Connecticut Grown for Connecticut Kids Grant program has been tremendous and we are pleased to double the number of awardees this year with increased funding capacity,” Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt said in a statement. “We are especially appreciative of the advisory committee members who participated in the review process to ensure these projects will have a meaningful and immediate impact on students access to fresh, nutritious CT Grown foods while providing interactive learning opportunities related to agriculture, nutrition, food and health.”

The highly competitive selection process was conceited by a statutorily authorized review panel as well as Hurlburt. The program was funded for two years through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and administered in collaboration with the Connecticut State Department of Education (CSDE) and the Connecticut Farm to School Collaborative (FTSC), the announcement states.

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