At Daniel Jenkins Academy, Tara Boucher is proving that when you’re a teacher, every school year is a chance to reinvent your classroom, your curriculum — and even yourself.
“There are no boundaries to how creative you can be within your discipline,” Boucher said. “It’s exciting to try new things, and I think the students are excited to see how excited I am.”
Boucher has taught for 21 years, teaching subjects including science, Spanish, math, creative writing and social studies. Three years ago, she transferred to Daniel Jenkins Academy to teach yet another new subject: environmental science. The move reinvigorated her practice.
“In environmental science, we learn about farming, sustainability, solar energy,” Boucher said. “There are so many things I didn’t know before I started teaching this class. I’m getting the chance to learn right alongside my students.”
To literally bring the material to life for both her and her students, Boucher began incorporating a mobile greenhouse in her lessons, then a full-scale greenhouse on campus, then vertical gardening projects.
Seeking to learn as much as she can about her new subject area as quickly as she can, Boucher has delved into gardening in her personal life, too.
“I spent that first summer watching a lot of gardening videos on YouTube. My lanai at home is covered in my own tomato plants and eggplant,” she said.
“I’ve taken the seeds from the lemon wedges at lunch and am growing lemon trees. I never knew you could grow an avocado plant with the pit from the one you buy at the grocery store, but you can.”
About a year ago, Boucher aimed to give her students the experience of planting and harvesting their own produce. Together, they turned unused raised beds on the backside of the school’s campus into functioning mini-farms.
“So far, we’ve grown carrots, lettuce, broccoli, onions, and we had a lot of radishes,” Boucher said.
“It’s been neat to see the children learn about the basics. They had no idea what broccoli looks like in the ground, because they’ve only ever seen it in the grocery store or on their plate. They’re getting to see how their food is grown.”
“The project has sparked some great critical-thinking exercises. They want to know why one student’s plant is bigger than their own. They’re asking why what works for one plant doesn’t always work for another.”
To elaborate on the connections between farm and table, Boucher has her students use scraps from their lunches to create compost for the gardens.
Earlier this year, Boucher became one of eight PCPS educators to receive a $2,500 grant from State Farm to expand her gardening project. She will use the funds to add more raised beds.
It’s just one of many big ideas she has to continue learning more about environmental science, and to keep her students learning too. She and her colleagues are also working to create a bird sanctuary and succulent garden on campus.
As she summed up her work in recent school years: “I’ve learned there is always room for growth.”