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Students in Therisa Cash’s class at Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math are caretakers of the Monarch Butterfly Garden at the Vista school. Photo by Jano Nightingale
ColumnsJano's Garden

Magnet school makes growing a part of learning

Young students in Melanie Master’s third-grade science class have not only found a way to enjoy looking at insects, but also how to grow their lunch!

The Casita Center for Technology, Science & Math in Vista, a Vista Unified School District magnet school, not only has a full-fledged outdoor raised bed garden project going strong, but also has initiated the Kitchen Lab that produces healthy vegetable lunches once a week.

According to principal Jenny Chien, “We are introducing our students to international foods and food preparation right here in our garden.”

One week, she said, students prepared “salad from all the greens in our plots, and our teachers have created recipes for salad dressings that originate in three different countries.”

Casita Center students have embarked on a project to grow butterflies in Ms. Cash’s classroom. The Butterfly Garden is now one of favorite spot for students in the science classes Photo by Jano Nightingale

The Casita Center is an International Baccalaureate World School with a STEM focus, “whose aim is to develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful planet.”

Although this mission has a large and far-reaching format, Chien and her talented staff have taken on the yeoman task of not only developing indoor and outdoor gardens, but a garden-based curriculum and the Kitchen Lab as well.

The students became so interested in finding Monarch butterflies on the school grounds that they set up a fund-raising project to purchase milkweed and Pink Lady caterpillars.

Josie, one of Ms. Master’s students, raised $600 by selling cookies she and her mother baked themselves.

They later visited a native plant nursery to purchase the milkweed that the female Monarchs need for producing caterpillars.

The Butterfly Garden is now one of the favorite workplaces for all the students in the science classes, and is also supervised by a garden consultant from the Sage Program.

Caroline, one of the students visiting the Butterfly Garden with Therisa Cash’s class, summed all up, “I like how peaceful it is out here just watching the wildlife and working with the plants. We get to see not only the female Monarchs landing on the milkweed, but we watch the caterpillars turn into butterflies as well!”


It is the hope of the principal and staff at Casita Center that some of the students’ interest in growing their own food can be carried out at their homes as well.

For parents and children who are interested in starting their own backyard garden, visit the Master Gardener Association of San Diego County website at

And check out my previous columns on The Coast News website, such as the recent “Create a Window Box Salad Garden.”


According to a San Diego Union-Tribune story last month, “As the coronavirus surges and winter storms snarl traffic, shoppers are desperately looking for dietary staples that are usually easy to access.”

The article goes on to suggest that shoppers research local food delivery services through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) at or visit weekly farmers markets that are held in most North County cities.


Many other schools are investing in garden projects such as those at the Casita Center, and one of the stewards of the school garden movement in San Diego is Mim Michelove.

Mim Michelove is the co-founder and director of Healthy Day, an organization that is responsible for creating two certified-organic, school district-owned farms in Encinitas — the first of their kind in the country.

She is currently at work in National City, helping local school districts create farm-to-school garden programs that give all 6,000 elementary students access to a healthy, locally sourced school lunches.

For more information about volunteering or funding this project, visit the Healthy Day website at


For more information about starting a garden, or spreading the word about your school or community garden, contact me at [email protected].

Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener and Horticulturist and teaches gardening classes at the Carlsbad Senior Center. Contact her for class information at [email protected].