Greenfield teacher uses gardening to teach English

  • José Colón Martínez, 9, holds a string bean at the garden planted at the Leyden Woods Apartments in Greenfield as part of teacher Karen Malley’s project for English-as-a-second-language learners. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Daiangeliss Mercado, 8, and José Colón Martínez, 9, at the garden they have planted at the Leyden Woods Apartments in Greenfield as part of teacher Karen Malley’s project for English-as-a-second-language learners. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Karen Malley, who teaches English as a second language at Federal Street School, at the garden at the Leyden Woods Apartments in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Aidin Martínez and Daiangeliss Mercado, 8, and José Colón Martínez, 9, at the garden they have planted at the Leyden Woods Apartments in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Federal Street School has planted a garden at the Leyden Woods Apartments in Greenfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Karen Malley who teaches English as a second language at Federal Street School, rear, with Leyden Woods residents Aidin Martínez, Daiangeliss Mercado, 8, and José Colón Martínez, 9, at the garden they have planted at the Greenfield apartment complex. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 9/7/2020 12:49:14 PM

GREENFIELD — José Colón Martínez headed up the hill behind the Leyden Woods office building last week holding an umbrella overhead and donning a huge smile.

José, 9, a fourth-grader at Federal Street School, and Daiangeliss Mercado, 8, a third-grader there, are among the English-as-a-second-language learners participating in teacher Karen Malley’s gardening project.

“Wait until you see the garden,” José excitedly told the reporter. “We have sunflowers and carrots and green beans and tomatoes — look at this tomato,” he said holding up a large, fully grown red one perfect for a salad or sandwich. “I wanted to have pumpkins, but that didn’t happen.”

At the top of the hill in the middle of a community garden that hasn’t been kept up well by residents this year because of the pandemic, a 12-foot-by-12-foot plot is being maintained by the children and their parents. And it is thriving, providing families with fresh, nutritious food.

Malley said she received a grant from the local gardening club for the garden project earlier this year and had big plans, but the pandemic put a damper on them. She said she bought the supplies her students needed to create their small garden, but couldn’t do much more because about a month later, Greenfield schools closed for the remainder of the year.

“But the children kept this up,” she said. “They’ve been very dedicated.”

Malley said the idea was to secure a couple of grants to not only create the garden but also a curriculum around it. That’s exactly what she plans to do next spring with a second grant from the Massachusetts Association of Teachers of Speakers of Other Languages.

“This is project-based learning,” she said. “Students are not only learning about the environment and science and how things grow, but they’re expanding their language learning. They’re learning English by learning about gardening.”

Malley said the students who are involved are Puerto Rican and speak English as their second language. José pauses at times, searching for the word he wants to use to discuss his and his peers’ project, but he finds them with little difficulty and looks to Malley when he has trouble.

She and her students, with the help of Tim Wondoloski, custodian at Federal Street School, planned, planted, grew and have been harvesting the garden throughout the summer.

“We had a handful of students participate this year, but we hope to expand that number next year,” she said.

José’s 11-year-old sister Johan, a sixth-grader, also helps, but was not there in the rain last Wednesday. His mother, Aidin Martínez, said she’s thrilled her children have such a project to keep them busy, interested and learning. She and other parents have helped rake and weed the garden with their children.

Daiangeliss and her mother, Daeless Cotte, spent the summer carrying water from her home in Leyden Woods to the garden, especially when José was away on vacation with his family.

“I really like doing this,” Daiangeliss said.

Malley said the garden was smaller than she would have liked, but she and Wondoloski didn’t have a tiller, so they had to turn the earth with shovels.

“This little garden has made people feel hopeful and connected during this time,” she said as José and Daiangeliss picked the fruits of their labor, dirtying their hands and the knees of their pants.

As José and Daiangeliss started back down the hill, their smiles got even broader than they were on the trip up to the garden. Holding a small carrot, José raised it and said, “Try a bite. They’re so sweet.”

He said he feeds some of what he picks to his hamster, Luna.

“She likes our garden, too,” he said.

What do José and Daiangeliss think about their project and efforts?

“Well,” José said and Daiangeliss agreed, “it’s fun, but it’s a lot of work.”

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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