Teachers and volunteers at Millburn Elementary School in Wadsworth want to grow a program that connects students with the environment.
Part instructional tool and part community activity, students and parents have worked a plot near the school for more than two years as the Millburn School and Community Garden.
But a new phase to expand the program "as an educational and therapeutic place for our community to grow and learn," is underway, according to organizers.
"It's a combination of a school and garden group," said Lori Vellinga, co-chair of the fundraising committee that has set a goal of $15,000 to create an outdoor "classroom" with benches, shade sails, tool tubs and other features and make other improvements.
"That's our very ambitious goal," Vellinga said of the effort, which runs to the end of March. "The main cost is the crushed stone pathways."
The wish list also includes funding for the installation of three themed gardens, including a World War II-style Victory Garden; formal pathways; an annual greenhouse project field trip to Tempel Farms; and, transportation for visits to the gardens by Millburn Middle School students.
Regina Reynolds, a fourth-grade teacher who co-chairs the effort, said the yearlong classroom space would be used for various programs at all age levels.
"Students, Scouts or families will gather here to share and train for various gardening adventures," she told the Daily Herald in an email.
The new classroom at the center of the garden would represent a bridge between community plot gardeners and budding student gardeners, she added.
According to the group, schools with outdoor garden programs score higher on standardized tests in math and reading, for example, and students who participate also score higher on science achievement tests and have increased their fitness level, as well as the amounts and types of vegetables they eat.
School staffers have hosted clubs and summer school garden classes and promoted the mental and physical advantages for having gardening in the curriculum.
Lesson plans already have been developed. Crops will include corn, carrots, melons, squash, strawberries, kale, lettuce, beans, peppers and spinach.
"By working in the garden, students can see how math, science, and language commingle instead of as separate subjects -- much more like the real world," Reynolds said. Cooperative group learning, stewardship and fellowship are other benefits, she added.
Donations can be made at www.greenourplanet.org.