LITTLE FALLS, NJ - Even though summer has ended, the students and staff members at School No. 2 plan to earn their "green thumb" throughout the fall and winter months, thanks to six newly installed raised flower beds in the school's backyard garden area.

Jill Castaldo, principal, said the project brought teaching staff together with students, as part of the school's outside learning initiative.

"These are raised flower beds so that up to six students can stand around them and really take part in planting and caring for them, while being supervised by the teachers, and with help from City Green," she said.

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City Green, a non-profit organization, is dedicated to facilitating the establishment of urban farms and gardens in northern New Jersey cities, according to it website. Based in Clifton, the organization aims to create livable, green and sustainable urban communities. Representatives visit schools and other educational facilities in order to partner with them throughout the year.

City Green also assisted Passaic Valley High School last spring when the high school took some time to beautify its courtyard and front entrance walkway.

"They (City Green) helped us install the wood beds and stained them," she explained. "They also are helping us to determine which crops will grow best in certain weather. We're hoping everything will come to fruition by early spring."

Castaldo added that City Green will also be working with the school's cafeteria staff in order to spotlight some vegetables to grow in the garden.

"These are lessons that will be tied to teachers actually giving in-class projects," she further added. "These assignments are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards."

According to Castaldo, the school began an outdoor learning facility, which gives students a hands-on educational approach.

"We'll have a chalkboard right near the picnic tables so lessons can go on outside and make it completely a hands-on experience for them," she added. "It really makes them excited to learn outdoors. They can contribute to planting and watching the garden grow from inception, which started in September. It also promotes small group instruction, with anywhere between four to six students that are around each flower bed."

The outdoor lessons are inclusive for all students at the school, pre-k through second graders, she said, including all of the special area classes. Everybody is involved with the planning and have responsibility in maintaining the garden. A watering schedule was also created. Plantings will also be added around the beds. 

"The response has been great from our staff," she said. "There are also people, such as many parents, who have donated gardening tools from their sheds from home. We hope to have everything up and running by the end of fall."

Supervising the newly erected garden were representatives from City Green was Emil Rostello, director of horticulture, and Julian Cannata, production assistant.

"We usually visit schools and try to help their school grounds in areas where it's kind of wasted space," Rostello explained. "Through it, it becomes a learning opportunity for students as they figure out a way to make a sustainable garden out of the space."

Castaldo added that the push is to give kids a learning experience aligned with 21st Century skills in order to make them successful in life.