n the City Campus Outdoor Classroom, Kimberly Blaney and Randi Coffey’s Kindergarten students grow garlic, mint, zucchini … and courage! It’s all part of an emphasis on character education in the Kindergarten curriculum focusing on courage, respect, honesty, hope, loyalty, justice, and love—and cultivating them as carefully as prized heirloom tomatoes.

“We want our children to be caring citizens,” asserts Blaney. “It’s important to teach foundational skills in math, reading, writing, and other core subject areas, but it’s just as important to teach them to be good friends in the community.”

The project incorporates the Heartwood Character Education Program, developed in part by WT alum Eleanore Nix Childs ’62, and is fortified by a City as Our Campus℠ partnership with Kimberly Bracken, an expert in community food and garden programs for young children. Miss Kim, as she is known, connects key values to hands-on experiences in the garden.

“Plants are incredible teachers,” she says. “They teach us about ourselves and how to live in a good way.” After planting bulbs last fall, students questioned if they would survive the winter. Miss Kim explained the bulbs would hibernate in winter’s frozen ground, trusting that spring would come and they would live, grow, and bloom again. Another teacher: the dandelion. “Nutritional, medicinal, it is a pollinator and helps prevent erosion. It grows in harsh conditions, yet shows so much bravery and courage—like people who put themselves in harsh conditions to help others and serve a greater good. We call them heroes.”

As they dig, plant, compost, and taste, children observe, count, sketch, and write. Values are woven throughout the day with stories, discussion, cooperative play, art, music, journals, and literacy and language connections. Blaney says student efforts are taking root—and yielding a bountiful harvest.

“We see connections when the children take risks to try new foods in the cafeteria, when they have courage to raise their hands and participate in class lessons even when they aren’t sure of their thoughts, or when they bravely approach a new friend by extending a firm handshake and introducing themselves,” observes Blaney. “We are helping to build a foundation for our students to become global citizens who cultivate an active care of the world and others with whom they share it.”