Kutztown Elementary parents Lisa and Steven Schnell were surprised with an award during the school’s Back to School Night on Wednesday.
The Kutztown Environmental Advisory Commission presentedthe Schnells with the borough’s Environmental Stewardship Award, recognizingthem for their leadership on the KES School Garden, a space designed to teach students about plants and gardening.
The EAC, who works with the borough to improve the Kutztown environment for residents, developed the Environmental Stewardship Award to recognize those who have made a commitment to preserving and promoting the environment of Kutztown.
“They raised over $5,000 in grants and donations, organized numerous volunteers and got their own hands dirty to develop this beautiful garden in the courtyard of KES,” said Jeri Carroll, of the EAC. “The garden has provided a wonderful opportunity for the students to learn the importance of native plants and growing local food. The kids even had the opportunity to harvest and taste the fresh vegetables. Perhaps even more importantly, the kids are outside, getting their hands dirty while making a connection with the earth.”
The Schnells did not know that they were receiving the award until just before receiving the award in front of a crowded room of other Kutztown Elementary parents.
“It’s a really big honor,” said Lisa. “It’s humbling in a way because there were so many people who have worked on this garden, it was not just us.”
In addition to a lot of student and parental help, Principal Tracy Blunt was “incredibly supportive” and third grade teacher Mrs. Fritz, “her enthusiasm has really kept things going and pulled things together,” said Lisa. “The award is not just for us.”
Steven agreed. “I’m honored but it was a huge work on a lot of people so I’m thrilled for the garden and thrilled so many people think it’s an important thing and are willing to help out with it.”
The idea for the garden was inspired by something KES teacher and parent Beth Sica said to Lisa, that it would be great if there was a garden in one of the court yards. So Lisa said something to the KES Parent Club president and the project was under way.
Lisa has a background in native plants and Steven has studied community supported agriculture. The project began last year with a group of volunteers, led by the Schnells.
“It’s taken a lot of work to get this going but when the students come out here, their enthusiasm just for digging or their looks of awe at seeing the things growing, the flowers, and the different textures and smells, it’s been a lot of fun,” she said. “They love to get dirty. Just seeing them eating piece after piece of raw broccoli is great.”
The garden includes tomatoes, herbs like sage and basil, char, purple beans, onions, kale, hopi blue corn, native corn, brussel sprouts, potatoes, peppers, pumpkins and winter squash. In the native plant garden there are several types of mint, blue eyed grass, asters, golden rods, milkweed, sunflowers and much more.