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Staff Collaborate to Create a Hands-on Virtual Garden Experience

October 2020

With our school campuses closed due to the pandemic, teacher Cynthia Mallison from Bowers Elementary and Jennifer Zeitler and Karen Gwerder from Central Park Elementary, wanted to ensure that our students still had access to gardening knowledge. After meeting through SCUSD’s CTE garden collaboration group, they began working over the summer to provide students with a hands-on virtual garden experience.

From their combined teaching experience in school gardens, they understood the meaningful learning that occurs with hands-on activities. Despite the global pandemic closing schools and forcing students into a distance learning platform, Mallison, Zeitler, and Gwerder wanted hands-on environmental lessons to continue as a way for our students to stay connected to the natural world — fuelling students’ interest in gardening. 

The development of the school garden programs at the teacher’s school sites would have not been possible without the sharing, support, and connection of resources. As a way to pay it forward and to model collaboration, they began creating interactive garden slides to share. The team connected with Mint Sanjeemas Pasakdee and David Tuttle from the district farm, Kimberly Hunter and Kelly Overduijn from the Bryan Osborne Nature Center, Nutrition Services Director Karen Luna, and Phillip Volta from Bower’s Elementary School. This collaboration serves to not only offer students an opportunity to familiarize themselves with resources and staff but also provides meaningful content. 

When fires raged across California in August, the team decided to theme the garden lessons around being a soil hero, inspired by Kiss the Ground’s free educator resources. By being a soil hero, students learn elementary soil science and become empowered to make a significant impact on our community. Furthermore, the interactive slides contain recipes using seasonal produce to foster healthy eating and provide students with the life skills that will serve them for years to come.

Mycorrhizal fungi in a garden create an underground network where plants of different species can help each other thrive by sharing resources and communicating with one another. Just like the mycorrhiza, our collaborative efforts and sharing of resources can help everyone grow so let’s communicate. For more information, please contact Karen Gwerder at, Jennifer Zeitler at, or Cynthia Mallison at

Check out some of the videos below. Happy gardening, from the SCUSD Garden Team: