DALLAS - Sandwiched between a busy East Dallas street off Mockingbird and a school parking lot is a 20,000 square foot garden.

For children, it's paradise outside the traditional classroom.

Stonewall Gardens at Stonewall Jackson Elementary started 15 years ago with a bean plant sown by Mark Painter, a science teacher who wanted children to learn about the life cycle of plants.

The program grew, just as the garden has.

It's more than science, Painter said. I mean, not only are they learning about systems theory, they're learning where food comes from and how we interact with the environment, and the impact that humans make on it, you know?

Each student tends their own plant each season, learning an appreciation for food they otherwise wouldn't touch.

There is broccoli, cabbage, kale, tomatoes and other veggies growing right now.

Children enjoy learning about the entire ecosystem, including insects who rely on plants for survival.

Amazing things happen, said first grader Cairo Matthews, of his time in the garden. Like last time, we caught a butterfly and it formed its chrysalis.

DISD supported the garden classroom and its teacher until 2008, when both were eliminated in budget cuts.

That's when parents and the surrounding community rallied and raised a lot more than okra.

[W]e worked really hard to establish this non-profit Stonewall Gardens, explained Kate Cromwell, the group's president. Which allows us to fund the whole program, including his contract. We didn't want to let him go.

Since then, we have been funding it as a community, Cromwell continued. The families at our school, our neighbors make donations, local businesses make donations, and we've also had some grants, but it's really a community project.

Pretty amazing, is what Painter says of the community efforts.

It's part of me, he said of the gardens. I'm part of it. I love it.

Painter no longer gets school insurance. His benefits now have more to do with precious faces, than finances. Kids experiencing first-hand the wondrous cycles of life.


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