17050 Del Sur Ridge Rd

San Diego, CA, US.


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17050 Del Sur Ridge Rd

San Diego, CA, US.

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The Design39Campus Garden featuring Dr. Susan Ross



In this article and interview, we are going to share about Design39 Garden! The Garden is part of a program called Dig39. The Design39 Garden is managed by Dr. Susan Ross, the Dig39 team, and parent volunteers. The garden also acts as a learning experience for students at Design39. Dr. Susan teaches special science lessons that often incorporate the garden. We appreciate Dr. Susan volunteering to help take care of the garden and putting in hard work to bring us awesome learning experiences. Our school is very lucky to have a garden at the school, considering that many schools do not have one. We enjoyed learning about what plants, fruits, vegetables, and bugs the garden holds. We hope this article informs you about the green side of Design39!

Dr. Susan Garden Interview Questions/Answers

1) Why did you first want to volunteer for the Design39 Garden?

I admired the beloved garden program and beautiful interesting plants that my predecessor Cara grew and wanted to keep the garden program going once she took other roles.  I enjoy gardening, sharing science, and learning new things so managing the  DIG39 space and program was opportune.

2) Tell us about the Dig39 program.

Dig39 is an outdoor experiential learning space and program that supports the  STEM curriculum and celebrates the diversity of our community. Designers can experience the garden via formal lessons/garden sessions or informally.  This year, almost all TK-7th grade classrooms will visit the garden for specific lessons like 6th-grade erosion or 4th/5th Garden Exploration.  But other classes come to the garden on their own, like Ms . Grimmer with her MS photography group. The best is when designers and even their parents randomly drop in because the gate was open.  In terms of celebrating diversity, DIG39 continues to have plants that reflect the multicultural & ethnic diversity of our community.  I’m always happy to get suggestions of plants to add to our garden.

3)  What is your favorite part about teaching students about the garden?

Creating or sharing wow moments and a-has! The garden is full of them. I love seeing the incredulous faces when Designers learn something cool or weird, like learning that those small, black & orange bugs that look like alien reptiles are actually ladybug larvae or seeing pumpkins germinating inside a pumpkin (this is called vivipary). And I love seeing Designers beam with pride and confidence because they get to see their efforts come to fruition, like getting their  hands dirty and filling a garden bed with good healthy soil in preparation for planting.

4) What are you growing in the garden at the moment?

The garden has cool weather crops, including purple peas, Daikon radishes, bok choi, celery, and cilantro as well as more radish, lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach (my favorite).

5) What’s your favorite thing right now in the garden?

I’m very excited about the explosion of flowers on our blueberry bush. If every flower becomes a blueberry, we will have many delicious berries.  We also have new fruit trees, both mulberry trees. They along with the papyrus plant helped expand the garden curriculum to support humanities (Ancient Chinese and Ancient Egyptian civilizations).

6) What do you teach about the garden?

A lot of science standards can be taught in the garden. Biology, Ecosystem, Weather, Geology.  In the fall, some classes learned about parts of a plant and the different ways plants disperse their seeds.  Did you know that bananas are berries but a strawberry is not?  Strawberries are an aggregate accessory fruit.  Designers enjoyed standing on a bed to throw their paper model of seeds like cassia seed pods into the wind and flutter away. Now we are looking at the ecosystem and the connections among soil, water, plants, and animals.  Soon designers will get a close look at detritivores like “roly-poly bugs” (Not a bug. it’s related more to crabs than to insects) and red wriggler worms used in composting.

Other topics include native plants, and safe, effective, eco-friendly pest management (for example, smearing petroleum jelly on the legs of the garden beds to deter ants and supporting insects that eat aphids). 

7) What do the students love about the garden?

There is always something different/ new in the garden to experience.  Something is growing or flowering or showing up. One might find a gravid (pregnant) praying mantis-like some 7th graders did. Designers are surprised to be offered so many different edible flowers to taste.  Kids love playing in the dirt and using tools to prepare or improve the garden in some way. To see a Monarch caterpillar munching on milkweed that they planted or to divert over 150 lb of produce scraps for composting instead of landfills – is very rewarding.

8) Why do you think the Design39 Garden is important?

The garden lends itself to positive hands-on experiences that let designers better appreciate the fragile world we live in as well. It’s a safe place to experience and realize quickly how human actions can impact other living beings – both good and bad.  The garden also allows Designers to burn off some energy or even channel their energy which benefits the garden while learning.

9) How do you take care of the Design39 Garden?

I’m in the garden almost every week during the school year and even during school breaks.  I really should organize a group of volunteers, designers, and parents, who could help with the weeding and simple maintenance every month. 

10) Does anyone else take care of the garden with you? If yes, who?

DIG39 is very fortunate to have strong staff support as well as community support.  Kelly Eveleth, 4th/5th LED and co-founder of DIG39, still actively helps with the garden. Linda Mautz, (not sure what her title is), will pop in to help weed or plant seeds or even help with garden events.  Thank goodness for groups of parent volunteers like the Rad Dads who help on the big garden volunteer events and the classroom parents who help with garden lessons

11) What other roles do you have on campus?

I’m a chemist by training so I also volunteer as a science instructor or lab designer.  I love love love creating & giving science lessons and labs that elicit wows or at least are engaging for Designers. When an LED requests my assistance with science, I’m always so excited and grateful because the LEDs have so many other science teaching tools and resources.  Otherwise, I help with Math Club and with a Cub Scout pack that meets at D39C.

12)  What do you want to make sure people know about the Design39 garden?

DIG39 garden is for the school community and is supported by the school community both in labor and in funding thanks to the Collaborative. I’m always open to feedforward from the staff and from families on how the garden can better connect to and engage with its community.  If you see the garden gate is open with me inside, you’re welcome to come in. Lastly, I am always happy to have help, especially over the summer.  Many hands make light work.  You don’t have to be a green thumb either.  We all learn from each other.

A special thanks to Dr. Susan Ross and the members of Ms. Grimmer’s Photography class for helping make this article possible.