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Home APS Scholars M. Agnes Jones Elementary School Introduces Student-Run Garden and Living Classroom

M. Agnes Jones Elementary School Introduces Student-Run Garden and Living Classroom

by Allison M. Slocum

Tucked away in the courtyard of M. Agnes Jones Elementary School (MAJ) is a quaint, student-run garden that has taken two years to cultivate and has finally made its formal debut through a special ribbon cutting ceremony.

MAJ principal, Robert Williams, spoke to a lively audience of proud faculty, parents, sponsors and students, and shared how the garden beautification project reinforces the school’s commitment to promoting critical thinking and problem-based learning.

“We want our scholars to not only embrace the community, but we want them to be thinking about finding solutions,” Williams said. “We want [learning] to be applicable to their lives, and this space has enabled them to do that.”

While the garden has been operational for nine years, the COVID-19 pandemic contributed greatly to its deterioration. However, hard work, dedication and community partnerships revitalized the project and STEAM educators, Lisa Colbert and Mikaela Zimmerman, spearhead its curriculum.

“It is a living classroom where we connect what we’re doing socially and emotionally. What we’re doing [surrounding] community. What we’re doing [surrounding] curriculum. And it comes together in just this unique, beautiful way that the students find their passion for what’s next and for what’s to come,” Zimmerman said.

The MAJ Garden successfully produces a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as houses pollinator-friendly plants, a composting station, a chicken coup, and a turtle habitat.

Fifth grader A’Journi Walker said the chickens were her favorite part of the garden experience and that she’s learned a lot.

“This garden has helped me learn how nature can develop and change over a timespan of as little as two years,” Walker said. “It is a great space for people to learn and grow and is a community for chickens, plants, kids and adults.”

Additionally, the garden sits amid a vibrant, eye-catching mural that encompasses inspirational words and phrases depicting the school’s academic distinction as a science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) certified school.

In fact, MAJ is certified as a Georgia Department of Education (GADOE) STEM school, a GADOE STEAM school and a COGNIA STEM school— the only school in the state of Georgia holding all three certifications.

This distinction was earned, in part, with the support of the Georgia-Pacific Foundation, who adopted the school over two decades ago to further their mission of supporting programs designed to promote education, environment, community enrichment, and entrepreneurship.

“Georgia-Pacific set out over 27 years ago to make a difference, to create value, and to add value to what was [existing at MAJ].” Georgia-Pacific Foundation senior director of community affairs Beverly Ferguson said.

With Georgia-Pacific’s support and the hard work of the faculty throughout the years, the IOWA test scores at MAJ have improved and their focus as a STEAM institution has expanded their academic offerings, with the garden being another added value and learning experience for the students.

Local non-profit Learning in Color designed the garden’s unique murals using color theory and custom art, with the assistance of resources supplied by Northside Tool Rental and volunteers coordinated by Georgia Power.

Morehouse College also signed on to assist with the garden beautification project as well as other organizations including Truly Living Well, West End Neighborhood Development, Rotary Club of Atlanta West End, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated and Spelman College’s Bonner Scholarship Program.

With the MAJ garden running at full capacity, future plans to expand its offerings are in development.

“We have a project coming up where we will be installing a greenhouse outdoors in this space to be able to further our outdoor learning and efforts in sustainability,” Colbert said. Krista Verdelotti, MAJ parent and GO Team member, also revealed that a partnership with Trees Atlanta to plant 50 trees was also in the works.

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