Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

St. Thomas More School STEM students help parish SVdP conference

the Inland Register

(From the August 18, 2016 edition of the Inland Register)

The garden at St. Thomas More School, Spokane, will produce a variety of foods that will be shared with the poor through the St. Vincent de Paul Conference. (IR photo courtesy of the St. Vincent de Paul Society)

The measure of a great education isn’t what it does for a student, but what it does through a student.

That thought has occurred to the members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society in north Spokane as they look forward to reaping the harvest of a garden sown by students of St. Thomas More School. The garden, planted on the school grounds, is an exercise in synergy, teaching students about working in the community, how to garden, the role of gardening in global ecology, and the power of the garden to feed the world.

The garden’s produce will be presented to the parish’s Vincentians – as the members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society are known – who will provide the nutritious, locally grown crops to those they serve. The St. Thomas More Vincentian pantry also provides food for other St. Vincent de Paul conferences on the north side.

“St. Thomas More principal Doug Banks got the school involved with the STEM initiative,” said Stacey Carruthers, a mother of four St. Thomas More students, who is involved in the project. “STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – in an interdisciplinary and applied approach,” she said.

At St. Thomas More, a fifth component has been added.

“Here we call it ‘C+STEM,’ with ‘C’ standing for ‘Catholic,’” Carruthers said. “The Catholic component of this program embraces global awareness and the student’s role as a citizen of the world.”

The concept is considered so central to St. Thomas More’s identity that the school has even incorporated C+STEM into its logo.

“Conveniently, ‘STM’ was already part of the acronym,” Carruthers said.

The project’s designers realized identifying service to the community as the garden’s goal would both add “Catholic” to the concept and underscore the ultimate goal of the four disciplines.

“We thought it would be a good way to use science as a method to serve the community while learning,” said Carruthers. “It’s always been a central theme of the school to teach the students to serve others and be involved with the community.”

The garden features eight raised beds with a drip irrigation system. Students designed the garden after doing research involving field trips to local community gardens and consulting with Master Gardeners from the Washington State University Extension Master Gardener Program. The school was blessed to have its very own gardening guru.

“We are fortunate enough to have a Master Gardener in our parish,” said Carruthers. “His name is Andy Smith and he has been helping us with the technical part of this as well as being involved with the planning and expansion.”

The project has been a significant undertaking. First, the beds were laid out, built of cinderblock, and filled with a fresh mix of Green Bluff black dirt. Then the seeds were planted by the fifth grade students and the drip irrigation system was installed. This year, the garden will feature cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, rhubarb, zucchini, potatoes, green beans, carrots, onions, and garlic.

“The students decided what was to be planted based on research they did in their science class regarding optimal plants for the zonal area,” said Carruthers. “Now the garden is being monitored for proper watering. A time-lapse video camera has been installed to give updates of the progress.”

The garden is being tended over the summer by school families and the parish Vincentians who will distribute the produce to families and individuals they serve. Nothing will go to waste.

So far, only fifth grade students are involved in the garden, but the project will be gradually expanded to include the entire school. The plan is for each grade to eventually have a specific role and particular food group to grow. The curriculum will include crop rotation, fertilization, composting, and employment of natural pesticides. The garden itself will be expanded as well.

“Plans call for a larger area for the garden and introduction of berry plants, fruit trees, trellises, a compost pile and, eventually, a solar-powered greenhouse,” Carruthers said. It is hoped the volunteer base supporting the garden can also be grown.

“This is a big project that everyone is very excited about,” Carruthers said, summarizing the project. “Students are getting a learning experience, volunteers are being enriched, and the Vincentians will have more healthy foods to distribute to their clients.”

No doubt about it, the St. Thomas More School garden is a win-win-win proposition.

(St. Thomas More Vincentian Bo Cunningham contributed to this story.)

(For more information about the work of the Vincentians, contact parish St. Vincent de Paul conferences, or email Spokane District Council president Paul Machtolf: Donations can be made directly to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Spokane District Council, P.O. Box 2906, Spokane, WA 99220, or to the individual parish Conferences. Additional information is available on their web site:

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