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80 new gardens to be planted at Chicago Public Schools

Learning Gardens | Courtesy The Kitchen Community

Learning Gardens | Courtesy The Kitchen Community

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Updated: April 28, 2013 6:27AM

Up to 50 of the 80 new gardens to be installed at Chicago Public Schools will go to schools designated to receive displaced children, the latest sweetener emerging from CPS’ decision to close 54 schools for good in June.

Not all 50 “welcoming schools” applied for one of the “Learning Gardens,” according to the mayor’s office. Yet gardens will be installed over the summer and fall on their campuses rather than at another batch of 55 schools that filled out applications last year, according to The Kitchen Community.

“We don’t plan on stopping,” said Kimbal Musk, a chef and co-founder of The Kitchen Community, which designs and installs the gardens with the help of students and community members. Each one costs about $35,000, paid for with private money. Each raised bed stands some 18 inches above ground and can sit on just about any surface, he said. The garden becomes an extension of the playground, he said, adding, “It’s incredibly easy to teach in.”

The gardens are so much in demand that 85 schools applied last year for 30 spots, Musk said.

Those 30 to be installed starting April 1 are going to 21 elementary schools and nine high schools, two of which are charters, according to the mayor’s office. They would not say which receiving schools will get gardens this fall, saying that the Board still has to finalize school closings in May.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel had already announced in December the creation of 60 more gardens, adding to the 14 piloted in the last school year. Half would be installed this spring; the remaining 30 were to go in this summer and fall with $1 million in private money left over from the NATO summit.

Thanks to additional money raised by The Kitchen Community to build 20 more for a total of 80, Emanuel said Tuesday that up to 50 receiving schools would get gardens.

“These Learning Gardens will provide our students in welcoming schools with hands-on educational opportunities in science and nutrition they otherwise would not have, and add to the investments that Barbara (Byrd-Bennett) and her team are making to ensure that all of our city’s students, no matter where they live, have access to the resources they need to thrive,” Emanuel said in a statement.

The administration has been publicizing perks at the 55 schools set to receive displaced children such as iPads for all 3rd to 8th graders, air conditioning and libraries, as the district prepares to eliminate 54 schools and close 61 school buildings.

Principal Tracey Stelly has had a garden since last spring at Lavizzo Elementary, which could get some of the students displaced from nearby Kohn Elementary in Roseland.

She’s hoping to use this year’s garden — of herbs and leafy greens — as a way to welcome the Kohn families.

“We’re just excited to get started with the new season and planting, trying to gear our planting around welcoming new students and families, so we will definitely have some sort of meet and greet so new students and families will be able to assist with our planting day,” she said on a conference call with a mayor’s spokeswoman.

Stelly said the garden has opened conversations about science, and health and wellness, especially in a school like Lavizzo, which sits in a food desert.

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