Prairie Moon Waldorf School earns state award for being green

Students at Prairie Moon Waldorf School used a recent sunny day to work in their own gardens.

“It’s fun,” said Finn Veerkamp, a second-grader, as he brushed the dirt from his hands. He was planting red romaine lettuce and basil.

Each student has a 3-foot by 3-foot area of land at the rural Lawrence school, and they are completely in charge of it.

Starra Zweygardt, a seventh-grader, was using a ruler to measure how deeply to plant the seeds for chard. She also had a map of her garden plot that she had drawn in class.

“It’s been pretty easy,” she said of gardening. “But, if you don’t take care of it, it’s not that easy.”

She recalled having to pluck a bunch of tiny weeds that had sprouted in her garden last year after she was gone for a period of time.

“That was really hard,” she said.

Nearby, fourth-grader Will Farwell was building a trellis out of sticks for his peas to climb, and fifth-grader Addi Lybarger was planting Forget-Me-Nots.

Kris Carlson, first- and second-grade teacher, said the garden is incorporated into classroom lessons on reading, writing, math, music and art.

For example, Carlson said he recently told the Irish folktale about how ragweed got its name. His students also painted pictures of a seed germinating under the earth and reaching up.

“They are hearing it, seeing it, doing it,” he said, while eating lunch outside on a wooden picnic table.

Prairie Moon Waldorf School first-grader Angus Burke works to steady a watering can as he makes his way across the planks watering his classmate's gardens on Wednesday, April 6, 2011, at Prairie Moon Waldorf School. At left is first-grader Bella Paradis. Prairie Moon was named a "2011 Kansas Green School of the Year" by the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education.

Prairie Moon Waldorf School first-grader Angus Burke works to steady a watering can as he makes his way across the planks watering his classmate's gardens on Wednesday, April 6, 2011, at Prairie Moon Waldorf School. At left is first-grader Bella Paradis. Prairie Moon was named a "2011 Kansas Green School of the Year" by the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education. by Nick Krug

Hands-on school

Prairie Moon’s curriculum is just one of the many reasons the school was named “Kansas Green School of the Year” by the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education.

Shari Wilson, director of the Kansas Green Schools program for KACEE, applauded the school for the way its curriculum incorporates nature and environment, and for how it uses the garden.

“It’s not about just sitting in a classroom, but it’s also about being outdoors and learning some life skills,” she said.

Prairie Moon, the state’s only Waldorf school, was established in 2001 and opened in 2003. It is located on seven acres of land just northeast of Lawrence Municipal Airport. It has about 60 children, ranging from ages 3 to 13.

“Waldorf schools are very hands-on schools,” said Rick Mitchell, a founder of Prairie Moon. “The slogan is head, heart and hands, and we do those things in equal parts.”

Prairie Moon also has a large garden, called Okanis, where produce is grown and sold to local grocery stores and restaurants. It also is taken to homeless shelters. Last year, the garden provided about 250 pounds of produce.

Mitchell is the garden coordinator, but students, teachers and Lawrence community volunteers help out.

“We have a lot of great partnerships,” Mitchell said.

Prairie Moon is working in cooperation with Kansas University’s Native Medicinal Plant Research Garden, which is adjacent to the school. This year, students will be planting and maintaining a tea garden on the KU land, and will work with KU students and researchers.

The students also designed and built a big tool shed for their expanding garden projects. Thirteen-year-old Starra estimated it took about three months from start to finish. She said they worked on it every morning as part of their main lesson.

It’s another example of how traditional subjects — like math, reading, writing and physical education — are taught differently at Prairie Moon.

“We don’t do outcomes-based education because we don’t have an outcome in mind,” Mitchell said. “We want children to develop into the people they are, but do it in a way where they are completely responsible to the community.”

Rick Mitchell, one of the founders of Prairie Moon Waldorf School, works on tilling the garden while children play outside Wednesday, April 6, 2011, at the school.

Rick Mitchell, one of the founders of Prairie Moon Waldorf School, works on tilling the garden while children play outside Wednesday, April 6, 2011, at the school. by Nick Krug

Recycling, composting and more

Besides its garden projects, the school is green in other ways.

Nick Matthews, a fifth-grader, pointed out how the school saves money on its water bill. It has a system that guides rainwater from the roof into two 450-gallon barrels. The rainwater is then used for the Okanis garden. During a steady rain, it takes only 20 minutes to fill them.

Other green efforts include:

• Recycling. It recycles everything that the Lawrence Recycling Center accepts.

• Composting. Faculty, staff and students compost garden waste, food scraps, leaves and yard trimmings.

• Classroom materials. It only uses natural materials such as wood, wool, cotton, silk, sand, beeswax and clay.

• Food. When possible, it uses local organic ingredients in snacks and lunches.

Prairie Moon was one of three schools named a “Kansas Green School of the Year.” The others were Hesston Elementary School and Tomahawk Elementary School in Shawnee Mission. The awards were presented during a ceremony April 1 in Topeka.

“These schools really are models for how all of us can be more green,” said Wilson, of KACEE.

The state organization will present the students at Prairie Moon with a big green banner on May 7.

“The green school award is not just based on what the adults are doing, but what the students are doing and their involvement is really important for a school to even be considered for the award,” Wilson said. “We value their contribution.”

Tagged: Prairie Moon Waldorf School, local food, school garden

Comments

UNIKU 7 years, 1 month ago

I think its hilarious that the article is about how green they are and the photo they use is of a guy using a gas engine tiller.

Marilyn Hull 7 years, 1 month ago

Congrats, Rick, and everyone at Prairie Moon School. This is a wonderful honor!

Centerville 7 years, 1 month ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

rwmitchell 7 years, 1 month ago

UNIKU makes a valid point regarding using a gas tiller in the "green" garden but I'm not sure I understand the "hilarious" part which seems needlessly cynical. When we started the garden two years ago we rented a large tiller to turn the turf. Last year, I purchased a very small and more efficient tiller. It takes more time to till the garden but uses less fuel. We use the tiller only at the beginning of the season and keep the beds by hand thereafter but the tiller does do a good job of turning under the winter cover crop and aerating the soil. Of course, we all need to reduce our consumption of fossils fuels, not only in the garden but also in home heating, transportation, electricity generation and so forth. Our little tiller is a small part of a big problem but I do understand UNIKU finding some irony in it. Perhaps even more ironic–we drive our produce to the market in a gas engine truck and shoppers generally consume gas in order drive to the market to purchase it. All food for thought.

Marilyn Hull 7 years, 1 month ago

Great response, Rick. People who comment on Wellcommons articles are supposed to use their real names. If UNIKU had used his/her real name, and suggested a realistic gas-free solution, the comment would have carried a lot more weight.

Someone once said, "Don't let perfect get in the way of good."

jestevens 7 years, 1 month ago

We've asked UNIKU to fill out her/his profile with their real name. Since we've integrated WellCommons posts into LJWorld's news stream, we're seeing more people from LJWorld exploring WellCommons.

We welcome them, and allow people to make three anonymous comments, if the comments are appropriate. We send them reminder messages every time they comment. Some people are adding their names; some stop posting to WellCommons. We remove comments of those who continue to post anonymously.

rwmitchell 7 years, 1 month ago

Thanks, Marilyn and Jane, for the good work you do on behalf of the community. I agree that people should stand by their words and appreciate your policy in that regard. -Rick Mitchell

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