2019 Teacher of the Year
Dr. Anne Marie K. Pai
Broad Street School, Bridgeton, NJ
The school garden at the Broad Street School in Bridgeton is a model for success. Every grade level from kindergarten to fifth grade has a garden bed that students plant and maintain. Their teachers connect the garden to lessons they are teaching in math, language arts, and science. The cafeteria uses the vegetables and fruit harvested from the garden as part of the daily lunch menu. And the success of the Broad Street School garden is due largely to the vision and leadership of Dr. Anne Marie K. Pai, chair of the school garden committee.
Broad Street School’s garden-teaching program is even more remarkable when you consider that the school has many characteristics of a city school even though it is surrounded by Cumberland County farmland. It houses 1,100 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, all of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch programs. For many students, English is not their first language. Despite these challenges, the school’s teachers have embraced a sustainable program of teaching students how plants grow and where their food comes from.
In 2014, the Broad Street School’s Character Education Committee, chaired by Dr. Pai, joined with the school’s Health and Wellness Committee to propose a school garden to give children the experience of growing food and encourage them to eat fresh fruits and vegetables. The hope was that the garden would be a space for the school and the community.
Dr. Pai said that this first garden did not survive due to the lack of gardening experience among the faculty and staff. She was undeterred, however, and in 2016 she wrote the school’s successful application for a New Jersey Agricultural Society Learning Through Gardening grant. Raised garden beds were installed, vegetables were planted, and teachers began to integrate the garden with their core curriculum in math, social studies, language arts, science, health, and art.
“This is an opportunity for all the stakeholders to learn about nutrition, leadership, teamwork, pride, and collaboration by participating in this farm-to-table learning activity in school,” Dr. Pai said.
Dr. Pai teaches art to students in kindergarten through eighth grade, and she often integrates the garden into her own curriculum. Kindergarteners illustrate how a plant grows by making collages with soil and glue and attaching the plant parts with other materials, such as string for roots. Her students create amusing self-portraits by drawing vegetables to illustrate their facial features. Dr. Pai’s sixth grade students learn scientific illustration while participating in the nationwide Tomatosphere project. The students’ sixth grade math teacher also participates in the project which enables students to evaluate the growth of tomato seeds that have traveled to the International Space Station and back.
For the 2017-2018 school year, Dr. Pai received a New Jersey Artist in Education Residency grant. A teaching artist from the Appel Farm Arts & Music Center in Elmer, NJ came to Broad Street School to assist Dr. Pai and her second and third students in making two gorgeous ceramic tile murals beside the main entrance. One mural featured a Cumberland County map of cultural landmarks. The other mural was a map of the city of Bridgeton and surrounding local farms, showing the crops they grow.
Broad Street School’s gardening efforts did not stop with raised beds. Twelve additional planters for flowers, herbs, succulents, and milkweed plants were installed around the school, and the school became a breeding ground for monarch butterflies as part of the nationwide Monarch Teacher Network. Students of all ages began to grow seedlings indoors on the windowsills. The kindergarten students raise seedlings in a classroom mini-greenhouse and middle school students grow them in a science lab greenhouse.
Most recently, a hydroponic grow wall was installed in the cafeteria, where students grow lettuce, Swiss chard, and even pumpkins. Students plant summer vegetables before school ends in June, and the school’s community liaison has developed a network of parents who maintain the garden in the summer months. Teachers attended a rain barrel training workshop to learn how to conserve water, and on weekends and in the summer the garden is watered from five rain barrels.
The commitment Broad Street School’s teachers have shown for the garden-teaching program and its huge success has not gone unnoticed in the Bridgeton School District. The district’s preschool received a Learning Through Gardening grant in 2017 and two additional elementary schools were recently awarded 2019 garden training grants.
Dr. Pai has 33 years of teaching experience. She began teaching at Broad Street School in Bridgeton in 2007 and was named Teacher of the Year in 2011. In addition to art, she is a certified teacher of English as a second language. She holds three advanced degrees: an MA in Administration, Supervision, Curriculum Planning and Management, an MA in Art Education, and an EdD in Education Administration.
For her passion and commitment in bringing school gardening to hundreds of children in Bridgeton and inspiring other Bridgeton schools to begin gardening, the New Jersey Agricultural Society is proud to name Dr. Anne Marie K. Pai its 2019 Teacher of the Year.