Running Strong for American Indian Youth® Dreamstarter Teacher Robert Hall ofEthete, Wyoming, is an elementary special education and gardening teacher at Wyoming Indian Elementary School serving children of the Northern Arapaho, Shoshone, Lakota tribes, including those with special needs.
Robert is using his grant to enhance the school greenhouse while also supporting students seeking additional credit and who ultimately benefit from learning about healthy eating and acquiring gardening skills.
Specifically, he is using his $1,000 Dreamstarter Teacher grant to purchase supplies to construct a hydroponic system in the greenhouse that can house 960 plants, as well as seeds and hydroponic supplies.
“This is part of a greater project that also includes building another greenhouse at the school along with a community children’s garden,” Robert reported.
“It is being used in conjunction with the summer school program of 2020 -2021 and 2021 – 2022 whereby we raised/are raising plants for all the students who want to attend to build their own gardens whereby we have and will supply all the materials and plants needed, (and the expertise), for children grades Pre-K through 5th grade to have their own gardens that we will deliver to their homes.”
So far, Robert has delivered 127 tub gardens with a variety of plants to families free of charge and expects to triple that number this year.
He explained that ranchers use what are known as “lick tubs” to supplement the nutrition of their cattle, but they “never know what to do with the tubs. That’s where we come in kindly requesting the hundreds of tubs to use with our children.
“Many children have told me that they regularly watered their little tub gardens throughout the summer or gave instructions to their grandmothers to regularly water them for them while they were gone visiting relatives on other reservations/cities/etc. and that they grew a variety of pumpkins, watermelon, corn, squash, beans and flowers and that they want to do it again next year.
“We have students who do not have a home to go home to, or who live in their car or live in run-down mobile homes with no electricity, no water, no plumbing and very little heat.
“I’ve seen them when I’ve delivered gardens. These are vibrant families that have difficulties, but who have the love of family when they are put to the task of caring for their children.
“When given the opportunity to help themselves with the addition of the child’s love of a garden, their dedication to that garden and their plants they lovingly planted, a spark has formed where these students regularly come to me to say ‘You should see what all I got out of my garden this summer for my family,’ or ‘we took the plants out of the garden and used them in our own garden and grew tons of plants.’
“And when asked, did you eat any of it? the students say ‘Yes, we ate corn and these funny green things, (zucchini) and they were huge! We carved pumpkins for Halloween and roasted the seeds.’”
This summer, he is planning to grow a school garden with community member help in conjunction with the Central Wyoming College Alpine Institute’s promise of a geodesic dome greenhouse that they will supply and build at the elementary school and a surrounding experimental garden for all the students to enjoy.
Robert told of how the program has benefited his students, and one 5th-grader in particular.
Zachary, who had suffered personal tragedy recently, was having academic difficulties in school.
“He has improved tremendously and has also needed male role models to help him on his path,” Robert told us. “I enlisted Zachary to help me build raised garden beds in the high school greenhouse after school as a type of personal assistant with the permission from his mother.
“Zachary learned how to use power tools to build raised beds that will last over a decade,” added Robert. “He was careful and proud of his work and was even featured in a community flyer that the previous school superintendent put out for all the community.
Ultimately, through his Dreamstarter Teacher grant project, Robert’s hope is to instill the feelings of success for students with special needs.
“I want to enable children to have some fun in social/emotional interactions while creating gardens and learning about gardening and create a learning environment that the school district will deem worthy to continue to use in their new system of learning for years to come.”