The newly-reopened Pleasant Ridge Montessori (PRM) School’s sustainable design made it the first public elementary LEED-certified Community Learning Center in the state of Ohio. At least 70% of the 590 pre-K through grade 6 children receive free or reduced lunches. It seemed a “natural” setting for a garden, in which children learn in the Montessori way about planting and caring for gardens and about nutritional eating. Through funding provided by a generous Xavier alumnus and donor and the efforts of PRM staff, the new children’s garden was created. The children include gardening as one of their activities in a special summer 5th Quarter class called “It’s Easy Being Green”. Xavier students Marissa Geiger, Melody Sabine, and Felecia Roberson are volunteering with this class during June. PRM staff Angie Okuda, Coordinator of Community Activities, Ruth Ann Wolfe, co-PTO president, Principal Maria McDonough, and Cincinnati Public Schools put the effort behind the dollars to make it happen.
A new children’s garden and daily fresh fruit for all children attending PRM during June of 2009 is due to the generosity of Xavier University graduate and donor Robert McDonald, M.D., of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dr. McDonald specified that his gift be used for a philanthropic activity where University students would plan and participate in a project involving some level of experiential learning to help feed the needy.
In early 2009, Dr. Debra Mooney, Xavier’s Associate Vice President of Mission and Identity, invited one professor from each of Xavier’s three colleges to meet with Fred Sansone, Xavier’s Director of Gift and Estate Planning. Dr. Gillian Ahlgren, professor of theology, Dr. Ginger McKenzie, associate professor of education, and Dr. David Burns, associate professor of marketing, learned about Dr. McDonald’s gift and challenge.
McKenzie took the challenge to her graduate Montessori Philosophy Class, where it became an opportunity for students and faculty to strengthen their knowledge about community needs. Everyone learned a great deal about community need and the possibilities presented by The Civic Garden Center about the benefits of gardening for children. The gift from Dr. McDonald prepped the garden site behind the school and installed four wooden garden frames. It filled the front frames with peppers, cabbage, herbs and beans. In the back, the students have planted tomatoes, radishes and squash. Along the front of the frames the students planted wildflowers, irises and marigolds.
“This is so important that the children learn it, do it and share it with others,” says McKenzie. Some of the children love the project so much that they do not want to leave at the end of the class.
A second project provides fresh fruit every morning to each child attending Pleasant Ridge Montessori during June. Two to three children at a time prepare this fresh fruit as a snack and Xavier students Melody Sabine, Chad Mertes, and Ximena Flores from the Montessori philosophy class help distribute it. Dr. McDonald’s gift is also providing the fruit for this summer 5th Quarter session. The bounty will continue throughout the coming school year thanks to the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program Grant from the Ohio Department of Education. It encourages students to eat fresh fruit and vegetables by offering them free throughout the school day. In this sixth year of the grant, Pleasant Ridge Montessori received $40,792.
Xavier University’s mission is to help form students intellectually, morally, and spiritually for lives of solidarity, service and success as men and women for others; that is, to be involved with a deeper engagement of the challenges that confront us all as global citizens.