As we set our New Year’s resolutions, one DC Public School (DCPS) is looking forward to new seedlings, bulbs, and plants to be sprouting in 2019. That’s because the Amidon-Bowen Elementary school in Southwest DC will soon be opening its brand-new greenhouse. As the signs all over its front lobby and hallways make clear, Amidon-Bowen is a school that sets many goals for its students. Its gardening program is just one of many curriculum activities for pre-kindergarten and early learning students. It is also an integral part of special education classes.
The school is located at 401 I Street, SW, just blocks from the Wharf. Principal TaMikka Sykes heads the 350-student school which was created when two DC schools — Amidon and Anthony Bowen Elementary — merged. Many may know of Anthony Bowen, a civic leader in the African American community. Margaret Milburn Amidon was a teacher and principal in SW in the 1800s. As the
neighborhood changes with the Wharf and other new development, the school has seen a 21 percent increase in students in the last five years.
The school occupies an entire city block, with a large outdoor playing field, and
plenty of space for raised garden beds and even some mature looking fruit trees. The schoolyard is very well situated for training the next generation of gardeners and environmental enthusiasts. Principal Skyes has nothing but praise for the school’s full-time teacher and garden leader, Ryan Adriatico. The Amidon-Bowen staff lauds PTA parents who have provided fundraising help for the greenhouse as well as furnishing gardening supplies such as hoses.
Ryan Adriatico is one of those gifted teachers every parent hopes their child will encounter during their educational journey. He has been a teacher for 15 years at several DCPS schools, starting at Eastern High School. Ryan grew up in the Philippines and recently became a US citizen. He has been at Amidon-Bowen for the past three years and says it is the perfect fit for him. He teaches one of the two sections of Special Education. His own gardening education comes from his father, who Ryan says is an amazing rose gardener.
When Ryan first arrived to the school, he noticed a few raised beds that looked like they were no longer being used. He asked the head of the school if he could begin gardening in them. Lucky for the students and the SW community, the principal gave him the green light.
“Gardening teaches the kids so much more than just the beauty and food that plants produce,” Ryan says. “It is a chance for everyone to come together as a community.” Early on, someone suggested that they fence in the raised beds so kids didn’t tear through them during recess. But Ryan wanted to leave the area open. “If kids do trample through them, it is part of life, and we deal with it,” he says. Some years the crops produce tons of sweet potatoes, radishes, and other root vegetables. Other times, the garden beds have to deal with squirrels and more recently mice eating the crops. “Even sunflowers have been chopped down by squirrels.”
The new greenhouse will ensure that the students get a chance to see their seeds and starter plants grow through a full cycle. Now, by the time the garden has vegetables, the students are packing up to go home for the summer. Once it is operational, the greenhouse will help all the classes get an early start on the season.
The greenhouse is currently empty, waiting for the electricity to get connected
so that space heaters can provide warmth for the seedlings. The PTA and school administration are busy figuring out the city codes and other next steps.
The gardening program is interested in finding partnerships to help with the funding, providing seeds and plants, and volunteers for summer watering. If you or you garden group want to help, contact the Amidon-Bowen PTA –firstname.lastname@example.org .
Ryan believes that when his students plant in the garden they are also planting memories and growing community. “I see it when my graduated students come back for a visit and they want to see whether their tree or plants are still thriving. The garden connects us to the community and that is so much more important than just the plants we grow here,” says Ryan. His dream for the school is that every class will be able to have a raised bed, and by everyone participating in the gardens, they will connect as a community.
The gardening program is interested in finding partnerships to help with the funding, providing seeds and plants, and volunteers for summer watering. If you or you garden group want to help, contact the Amidon-Bowen PTA [email protected] .
Rindy O’Brien’s first DC residence was across from Amidon Bowden, deepening her appreciation the fine work of its staff. Comments can be sent to [email protected]