Community Climate Hero: Mount Kisco Elementary School
Mount Kisco Elementary School is leading the way for immersive environmental programs in Westchester County and beyond. Through their creation of a community garden that the students help run, the children have been able to assist with every aspect of planting, upkeep, and harvesting, while also learning about the importance of the many different aspects of gardening.
Bedford 2030 spoke with school administrators about their bilingual programming and why they prioritize environnmental education.
Tell us a bit about Mount Kisco Elementary School and what makes it special.
Mount Kisco Elementary School is a dual language school. We are so lucky to be a downtown local school, our families and students are very connected to the building and our community! Mount Kisco Elementary School is one of five elementary schools in the Bedford Central School District. We serve students in pre-K through 5th grade. We are located in the heart of Mount Kisco just off the main street on W. Hyatt.
We are the only Dual Language Bilingual Education school serving students and families across our BCSD elementary schools, representing over 25 countries around the world. Every student learns in a two-way, side-by-side, dual language, English/Spanish, 50/50 immersion program starting in kindergarten. Students will typically have two teachers. In the instance when we have an odd number of sections on a grade, students will have one bilingual teacher. Instruction is planned, prepared, and delivered in the English zone and in the Spanish zone.
What was the process for starting your school garden, and why did you think it was so important?
In 2010, under the leadership of Principal Sue Ostrofsky, dedicated students, staff, and parents worked with community partners to transform an overgrown and abandoned tennis court into an outdoor classroom. Opened officially in 2011, the garden became a central part of the educational experience of hundreds of MKES students who made a connection with the soil and learned how to plant, grow, harvest, and eat healthy food.
Then in 2020, in partnership with MKESA Garden Committee parents the garden became a space to transform as an active outdoor classroom for every teacher and student to experience as part of their weekly schedule. Specifically, Mrs. Jennifer Wege, our parent garden extraordinaire, has worked tirelessly to identify priority projects that ensure the garden classroom is safe for students.
Mrs. Wege has harnessed incredible partnerships with Bedford Nursery, Bedford Hills Nursery, D.I.G. Farm, Community Center of Northern Westchester, FLHS AVID Students, Hilltop Hanover Farm, Intergenerate, Westchester Land Trust, Michael’s Garden Gate Nursery, The Mount Kisco Interfaith Food Pantry, Mount Kisco Mutual Engine & Hose Co. #1, Neighbors Link, The Town of Bedford Conservation Board, and Bedford 2030.
Since starting the garden, what role have the Mount Kisco Elementary School students played in its growth and success?
MKES students have fully experienced the rewards of planting and harvesting fresh produce that is donated to the Mt. Kisco community since the pandemic in 2020 under the leadership and guidance of Mrs. Wege.
In what ways has the larger community supported the garden? How does it impact families?
We are so blessed to have partnerships with Interfaith Food Pantry and Neighbor’s Link to have food donated from the garden to both of these places. A lot of our families are directly impacted by our donations!
MKES students love their school garden and look forward to visiting and nurturing this space. Students who typically feel anxious, are calm and attentive when learning in the garden. Students have great pride and sincere love for planting, weeding, and growing their own food.
Have there been any challenges with this garden program? If so, how have you overcome these challenges?
Water is one of our biggest challenges we have overcome this by having an incredible partnership with Mutual Engine Fire Department to deliver water when we need it! Funding for projects requires a creative approach. Fundraisers for the garden have been a wonderful challenge and have allowed for continuous improvement.
What would your message be to other schools considering creating programs similar to Mount Kisco Elementary School?
It takes a community to build this amazing garden and program. We feel and are such an important part of the community. Our garden program helps teach life skills and is a huge part of the emotional and social learning for our children. Our garden program impacts every child in our school and is part of our school culture! The best way to teach children a sense of responsibility for our planet is by giving them a chance to interact with and fall in love with the Earth. We believe deeply that a school garden curriculum will teach all students the impact we all have on the environment as individuals.