Garden Party: Community partners provide for Teaching Garden at Harrison Hill Elementary


By Sam Elliott

Harrison Hill Elementary School in Lawrence has a brand new outlet from which its approximately 720 students can learn more about science, horticulture and food.

The school is one of the latest to receive an American Heart Association Teaching Garden — a collection of nine raised beds right outside the building financed, built and planted by volunteers from Roche Diagnostics with help from Harrison Hill students.

Harrison Hill’s is the 401st American Heart Association Teaching Garden nationally, the 12th in Central Indiana and third in the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township — joining gardens at Brook Park and Skiles Test elementaries.

“This really has been a dream of ours since we started our community work,” Harrison Hill Principal Natalie Stewart said during the garden’s grand opening and planting day May 13.

Tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, eggplants, cucumber, zucchini, watermelon, basil, oregano, thyme and mint were among the plants put into the garden, which organizers at the school hope inspires children to try more vegetables in addition to offering education opportunities.

“It’s been a great relationship with Roche and the American Heart Association trying to teach kids how to eat healthy, think (healthier) and learn about how things are grown,” Harrison Hill’s school community liaison Neal Gore said. “When you grow it, you might want to try it. Kids might say, ‘I helped grow this. I want to try it.’”

Each classroom at the school will be able to utilize the new garden for their own grade- and age-appropriate projects.

“We started the learning process from the very beginning because we were already doing a project on gardening in our classroom and Mr. Gore helped us learn about it with creating an indoor garden,” Lori Kirkland, a third grade teacher, said. “So when this happened, it was just a natural progression. We were able to design the layouts, we’ve learned about the different herbs and vegetables and we were able to help build this and it helps us have ownership in it … I’m so excited and the kids are so excited. There was nothing but grass here before.”

More than just a school

Neal Gore is in his second year at Harrison Hill Elementary working as the building’s school community liaison, a position that was created thanks to a student success grant from the United Way.

“We gave them some ideas for projects we wanted to do — we do a summer school program, we do an after-school program and then we do our family engagement nights,” Gore said.

Family engagement nights aim to utilize the building and make it more than a school but also a community center, offering students and their families dinner plus class offerings ranging from urban gardening, yoga and STEM Scouts to crocheting, cooking and tap dancing.

“We’re open as early at 6:30 a.m. providing services for kids and there are nights we have classes that go until 9 p.m., so this place is hopping from morning until night. We work with the YMCA, we work with learning centers, we work with a program called Art With a Heart, so they all come in and do their programming and they’re achieving their mission in our building with our kids,” Gore said. “I work in the community to try to develop ideas on how to work with our community, because our educators already have so much that they need to do for our kids. Taking care of clothing or food needs or housing needs, we want educators to not have to worry about those things, but they’re part of our kids’ lives. So we want to bring the community in to do what they’re good at, so those organizations that are working with issues of homelessness or issues of providing low-cost clothing or food — we want to work with those organizations to come in and serve our kids and families.”

Gore’s efforts are some not every elementary school is fortunate enough to provide — and they’re appreciated by Principal Natalie Stewart.

“We do a lot of community engagement, really different from a lot of ways other schools do it,” she said. “He networks and he’s out in the community and tells everyone about how amazing Harrison Hill is and how they could come in and join in on what we have going on here. We’ve been able to build really strong partnerships and ultimately they benefit not just our kids, but the entire community.”