The students at Stonewall Jackson Elementary School were getting their hands dirty, tracking insects and learning about how healthy foods grow since long before it was a trend touted by First Lady Michelle Obama. In recent years, school gardens have sprouted up all over the neighborhood, the city and the country, but last night Stonewall marked 20 years since the land was first tilled to make way for the garden that would become the gold standard of local outdoor education.

“Students must be exposed to nature to be able to transfer those experiences into such an amazing evening,” says Barbara Uskovich, third-grade science teacher at Stonewall, amongst a garden full of students and supporters.

First launched in 1996 by longtime teacher Mark Painter (who retired in 2014), the garden spans an impressive 20,000 feet and offers students an array of educational opportunities. On Wednesday night, the students unveiled their Amazing Arthropod Ambassador program, teaching the captivated crowd how to promote certain helpful insects in the garden.

Beyond the school campus, the garden has become a place of pride for the East Dallas community. When school budget cuts threatened the garden’s continued funding in 2008, the community rallied in the form of sponsorships to keep the garden thriving. Much like the recent recess movement, the garden’s success demonstrates parents’ growing concern that their children are getting plenty of outdoor education in addition to conventional classroom curriculum.

Learn more about the garden at Stonewall Jackson here.

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