A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ninth District schools getting new outdoor garden, thanks to Calm Mind Foundation, Mission Continues

A new outdoor garden will be sprouting at Ninth District Elementary School this spring. The garden, a joint project with the Calm Mind Foundation, is intended to be more than an outdoor space for plants. Julie Muehlenkamp, the school’s Community Learning Center coordinator, explained what’s envisioned for the project.

“I am so excited to be able to provide a space for our students, staff, and community to explore and connect with nature,” she said. “The Calm Mind Foundation is working with us to create a plan that will bring in plants native to this area and ensure the space is inclusive so that everyone can access the garden. Students will learn about gardening and sustainability, but will also use the space for outdoor mindfulness activities, and it will be open to the community.”

Muehlenkamp had already been working with business owner, Jessica Starr, who started the foundation. Starr owns Sage Yoga and Sage + Garden, both located in Covington. Starr’s instructors have provided lessons twice a week in Ninth’s afterschool program implementing the “Calm Mind” curriculum, which focuses on five practices – breathe, move, focus, relax and reflect. She also offers classes to various nonprofits in the region. At Ninth District Viking Zone, the instructors try to create calm spaces to remove children from distractions. Starr saw an under-utilized outdoor space at the school and realized it would be ideal for a meditation garden.

Starr is working with another nonprofit organization, The Mission Continues, which connects military veteran volunteers with community opportunities to improve educational resources, tackle food insecurity, and foster neighborhood identity. The veterans will build raised plant beds, park benches, and other garden structures at Ninth District.

The new garden won’t just be a place to relax. The students will be learning about gardening, eco-friendly foods, and sustainability practices. The garden will have Kentucky native plants, fruit and vegetable plants, rain barrels, composting bins, and bird feeding stations. Starr hopes the lessons about sustainability will lead to lifelong practices and encourage students to share what they’ve learned with others.

“If we can reach kids at a younger age to care about sustainability issues, it spreads to the whole community,” she said.

A community effort involving students, their families and neighborhood volunteers will be needed to maintain the garden year round. Students already are starting indoor seeds and will transplant the seedlings when it gets warmer, Muehlenkamp said.

Volunteers from The Mission Continues began work on the garden this weekend.

The Viking Zone and the Calm Mind Foundation received a $10,000 grant from the Kentucky Out-of-School Alliance to incorporate mindfulness lessons, art therapy, and build the garden project.

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