Enriching the lives of students with Park Avenue school garden


For over a decade, a garden at Park Avenue Elementary School, in the North Bellmore School District, has flourished, providing rich learning opportunities for many classes of students. Park Avenue is the district’s only school in North Merrick, and the tight-knit community has long supported the effort to keep the garden thriving.

The plan to create the garden was hatched during the 2010-11 school year by teachers Robin Obey and Jill Skelly, who have both retired in the years since. Once their plan, and the money to fund it, were approved, the Bellmore Lions Club, which has long supported the North Bellmore district, gave Park Avenue a $2,000 grant that made it possible to enclose the area with a fence. Students not only grow and harvest vegetables and flowers there, but also learn about pollinators and other things that help outdoor spaces flourish.

“They wanted to start a garden at Park Avenue School that could be used as an educational space for students,” district Superintendent Marie Testa said. “And classes would come out and actually plant vegetables and flowers in the garden — so (it’s) a whole, holistic approach to education through gardening, through tending to the garden.”

The plot is on the southern edge of the school property.

Park Avenue’s teachers and the district are furthering their efforts to get even more students outside and learning, and once again, thanks to the support of the Lions Club, the school will be able to direct more funding to the garden. Nina Lanci and Melissa Cmar-Grote, who are in the Lions, and also North Bellmore Board of Education trustees, are longtime supporters of the garden, Testa said.

“I had approached the Lions, through Nina and Melissa, and I’d asked them if they would be willing to speak to the Lions about this educational opportunity and supporting it,” Testa said. “There was an immediate response — ‘Yes, what can we do? How can we support?’

“These teachers really did a phenomenal job of teaching children about the beauty and the science behind gardening,” she added of Obey and Skelly. “They left the legacy of this garden in the Park Avenue community and district.”

The Lions provided Park Avenue with a $1,000 grant.

“Their funds will be integral to the upkeep of the garden supplies,” Testa said. “The PTA is working on bringing education back to the garden, and … supporting the retired teachers, who will be coming back, hopefully, to offer some types of classes. The district continues to look at how we can continue this amazing opportunity.”

“Park Avenue had a vision for this garden,” Lanci said. “My organization, we were one of the first people that gave them money — there was fencing, via alumni that donated, and it evolved over the years. Recently they’ve wanted to revive it again. This is a legacy project. We want it to continue — I think it’s a very vital resource to the community, for families at Park to see and experience.”

It is hoped that the funding will allow the district to expand the educational opportunities in the garden in the coming school years.

“The goal is for children in their classrooms to come and experience gardening,” Testa said. “Right now, we’re really looking to keep it flourishing and growing, and we’re working on continuing the participation of the classes.”

And, she added, “The Lions Club has been very kind — silent humanitarians in their ways — that over my 20 years in administration, I’ve called them hundreds of times when there’s been North Bellmore community members in need. And that has been something extraordinarily beautiful.”