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In The Garden: Rams Enjoy Getting Their Hands Dirty
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Members of the Oakdale Junior High School Garden Club have been busy weeding as well as planting as they aim to revive and thrive in the school garden. Photo Contributed

Things are beginning to blossom at Oakdale Junior High School. While the students may be returning to a thriving environment post pandemic restrictions, it is the school garden which is being restored to life.

According to OJHS Resource Educator, Courtney Schmitt, the garden was first installed in 2016-2017 by retired educator Linda Metcalf. During the pandemic, the space went neglected and looked as such.

However, it was the preparation of the 2022-2023 OJHS Club Rush event which sparked the idea of re-launching the Garden Club for Schmitt. She further shared that Vice Principal Jeff Aprile had spent some time tending to the garden in the summer months. Aprile planted corn, pumpkins and zinnias. Presenting the idea to her husband, as well as fellow OJHS staffers, Schmitt made the decision to take on the task.

“That was sort of my motivating factor that, we could do this,” she said of presenting the club at Club Rush.

Much to her surprise, a total of 41 eighth grade students signed up for the class at the Rush event. The club meets at lunch at minimum once a week, so due to split lunch periods it can currently only accommodate eighth grade students.

“We finally got out there and we had a lot of weeds to pull,” Schmitt said of taking the students to the garden. “It was kind of exciting to see just how good eighth graders are at pulling weeds. They’re really good at it.”

Currently the OJHS Garden hosts a greenhouse, fruit trees, a walnut tree and picnic benches. Early this year a donation of 10 more fruit trees of varying varieties and six berry bushes was made by Burchell Nursery.

“There were some benches that needed to be built, so a few staff members came out on a Saturday and helped build the benches,” the teacher said of the support the club is receiving. “I would love to get more benches out there, so we could have a whole classroom.”

As a Resource Educator with a passion for alternative ways of learning, Schmitt speaks of all the varying subjects which can be demonstrated and taught in the garden. From mathematics, to logic, science and research, the learning opportunities are plentiful.

“There’s just so much that we can do out in the garden for the students,” she said. “Every subject that we have on this campus, I can easily tie into the garden.”

The garden enthusiast shared a story of a challenge given to the students one lunch period to harvest apples from a tree which was full with fruit. A menagerie of students gathered together and began strategizing on how they could pick all the apples.

“They were working together as a team, figuring out how they could get every apple down,” Schmitt stated proudly. “They were using the tools and they were getting all the apples down.”

As a Florida native with no formal training in horticulture or gardening, the teacher shared she, too, is still learning. And, she admitted, prior to moving to Oakdale she had never gardened a day in her life. A fact which quickly changed once she moved to her husband’s family property, which they now own. For Schmitt it has become so much more than a chore, it is her passion.

“When I first moved to California and I didn’t know anybody, it was kind of my thing to go out in the garden at home and it was just kind of where I spent my time,” she said, choking back emotion.

During COVID it was a space which kept her sane. That beauty, wonderment and tranquility is now something she wants to share with the students, as well as the staff.

“It’s a place where all students can come,” she said, something which is important for her as the special ed teacher.

And while Schmitt and her students are enjoying planning, as well as planting the garden space, there are a few projects for which outside help would be most useful.

According to the teacher, there are some rough spots which need leveling and would require equipment larger than they have available. Then there’s the issue of watering. Schmitt worries that without an automatic irrigation system the garden will suffer in summer.

“Right now, we don’t have automatic water out there,” she said, “so long-term for it to be managed in the heat of the summer, we’re going to have to get automatic water out there.”

Currently the OJHS Garden Club has lettuce which was started from seed, varietal peas and a ton of flowers. Both the pumpkins as well as the corn planted by Vice Principal Aprile were harvested in the fall.

“I think a place for all of our students, every single one, to be able to go for whatever they may need,” Schmitt noted of what brings her the most joy with the Garden Club. “A place for hands on learning. It has kind of evolved into a lot. I have so many ideas and I have to write them down and think, what’s realistic, what can we do.”

Community members, organizations or businesses interested in helping or donating to the OJHS Garden Club may do so by calling Schmitt at (209) 847-2294 or contacting her by e-mail at

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A flower arranging class was one of the recent after school activities hosted for the OJHS Garden Club. Photo Contributed