Blackburn Learning Garden, Creation Day was Huge Success

The Blackburn Middle School Learning Garden has been in the works for the past two years and during that time several community partners joined together to ensure the success and sustainability of the garden. On this past Monday, MLK Day of Service, over 200 volunteers met to create the learning garden for Blackburn.

Blackburn Middle School was at a disadvantage because their school was surrounded by parking lots and there was very little green space to house the garden, however JSU owned two plots of land near Blackburn. JSU felt this was a great opportunity to turn vacant land into usable space for the benefit of Blackburn Laboratory Middle School. The garden is intended to be a collaborative project between BLMS, JSU and public and community organizations from the West Jackson area.

While the creation of a garden will immediately fulfill a basic need of transforming two vacant and overgrown plots of land into an inviting entrance to the JSU and BLMS campuses, the garden is not intended to be a simple beautification project. Instead, the goal is to create a learning garden and outdoor classroom space that can be integrated into classroom curricula, enhancing the learning experience for BLMS students while addressing multiple educational and environmental goals.

Since JSU donated the land for the garden, we were able to leverage that in-kind donation, valued at $15,000 dollars, to get grants to support the development of the garden. Below are the funding agencies and the amount granted.

Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant – $5,000
Whole Kids Foundation – $2,000
Waste Management – $10,000
Corporation for National & Community Service – $500

This project was made possible because of the many organizations and individuals who signed up and volunteered their service to ensure the success of the garden.
Blackburn Middle School– Dr. Valerie Bradley is the principal of Blackburn and supported the learning garden from the very beginning. She played an intricate role in fostering collaboration across multiple groups to create and sustain the garden.
JSU’s Center for University-Based Development– Ms. Heather Wilcox was the lead coordinator for the Blackburn Garden and cultivated community partners, solicited volunteers, secured grant funds, and designed the garden.
Mississippi Road Map to Health Equity– Mrs. Beneta Burt has committed to buying all the fruits and vegetables for the garden. They will be ready to plant in March.
Keep Jackson Beautiful– Marsha Hobson helped secure funding for the garden and leveraged her experience in gardening to build the learning garden.
JSU’s College of Education and Human Development– Dr. Ayanna Gill and Kyle Bray solicited grant dollars and helped get in-kind donations from local businesses such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.
JSU’s Art Department– Mr. Kenyatta Student and his art students designed an abstract painting for the tool shed. They painted the shed and incorporated their design onto the three picnic tables in the garden.
JSU’s Alice Harden Center for Community Engaged Learning– Dr. Gisele Gentry and Ms. Eltease Moore secured 75 JSU student volunteers that helped build the garden. They also are putting a team of students together to help with the maintenance of the garden.
University Park Neighborhood Association– This is the neighborhood in which the garden is located. Mrs. Betty Lyons, President of University Park, garnered the support of her neighbors and almost every neighbor came out to help build the garden. Neighbors brought tools, offered to let us use their electricity, and will help with oversight for the garden.
JSU’s Facilities and Construction Management– They helped prepare the site for development by pulling up trees and cleaning off tree limbs and branches.
JSU’s Public Safety– Will help with security of the garden and will monitor the garden during their nightly patrols.
City of Jackson– The City came out and repainted the crosswalks on Dalton St and Pearl St. and they let us borrow many tools to build the garden. They also are identifying the water lines on the property.
Magnolia Tree Services – Donated a truck load of mulch for the garden.
Americorps Reads – Sent ten volunteers to help build the garden.
Kids Kollege – Had parents and children volunteer to build the garden and has committed to working in the garden during the summer months.
Eddie McBride -Community Volunteer who helped plan and build the compost pile and raised beds.
Gabe Porter -Local Farmer who leveraged his expertise to build the raised beds.
Rod Denne’ -Community Volunteer that helped build 17 raised beds.
Patty Patterson – Community Volunteer that helped build 17 raised beds.

WHEH!!! That is a lot of folks! But that is what it takes for the learning garden to be sustainable.

Classroom Curriculum
The primary function of the garden is to provide curricular support by serving as a “learning laboratory” in which BLMS faculty are able to experiment with new pedagogical techniques and interactive, hands-on teaching and learning strategies. Although a learning garden is most easily applied to science and math curricula, all BLMS faculty will be encouraged to incorporate the garden into their lesson plans. BLMS has selected Mr. McCall’s “Learning Strategies” classes to pilot the use of the garden, beginning in the spring semester of the 2015-2016 school year.

Evaluating the success of the garden is largely subjective, as there are no preexisting standards to use in measuring success. Therefore, BLMS will determine its own benchmarks and targets. BLMS will utilize several qualitative and quantitative methods of tracking garden use and determining positive impact on students, and will conduct a yearly garden assessment using the self-assessment model developed by the School Garden Wizard ( Data and evaluations will be compiled into a yearly garden “annual report”, which will serve as both a strategic planning resource and a method for sharing information about the garden with potential funders, community partners, etc.

Quantitative Measures
For the purposes of data tracking, a garden logbook will be kept on site. BLMS faculty and staff will be asked to record the date, time, number of students, and purpose of the visit each time they take students to the garden, and community visitors will be asked to log the organization they represent, and the date, time and purpose of the visit. The logbook will be supplemented by a survey given to students and teachers at the end of each semester. The goal of the data collection is to determine the following:

# of students engaging with the garden per week
# of hours students spent in the garden per week
# of classes visiting the garden per week
# of faculty incorporating the garden into their classroom curriculum
# of community volunteers working in the garden per week
# of workshops and special programs offered per month

Qualitative Measures
Dr. McCall’s “Learning Strategies” class will serve as the pilot class for qualitative data collection, with the intent of collecting data from other classes as more teachers incorporate the garden into their lesson plans. At the start of the school year in August 2015, all students in Dr. McCall’s class will complete a pre-survey, designed to gauge their level of interest and/or knowledge regarding healthy living and nutrition, agriculture/community food systems, sustainability, etc. These students will take a post-test in May 2016, to determine changes in attitudes and perceptions.

Future Developments
JPS, the Mississippi Museum of Art, and Culinary Curator Nick Wallace will announce their “Creativity Kitchen” on Monday, January 25th at Blackburn Middle School. This initiative was designed to spark excitement and education about eating and preparing healthy food in middle school cafeterias. The purpose of Creative Kitchen is to connect culinary arts, nutrition education, and creativity to engage students, staff, families, and the community to foster the desire in students to eat well, eats fresh, and enjoys the process of preparing healthy meals. This program will incorporate the learning garden and use fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden throughout the duration of the program.

If you are interested in finding out more about the Blackburn Learning Garden, please contact Heather Wilcox at 601-979-5828 or by email at

Below are the pictures from the event.

About Jackson State University, Center for University-Based Development (932 Articles)
We blog about things that are absolutely, positively West Jackson (Mississippi).

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