Green thumbs: Students find friends in plants and people in the school garden. (ABC Central West: Kathleen Ferguson)
For many children the sound of the bell signalling recess or lunchtime is a relief.
It is a time to burn off energy, catch up with friends, tackle the play equipment or construct that architecturally questionable sandcastle.
But what do you do (or did you do) if your friends were not at school one day, or you just did not feel like you had a place in the playground?
For pupils at St Raphael’s Catholic School at Cowra, in central-west New South Wales, the solution has been to get their hands dirty.
“I like gardening because I love to eat vegetables,” year three pupil Sienna Launders said.
Dotted around the school campus are vegetable gardens established by local farmer and parent, Alison Rutledge, and the organisation Landcare.
Ms Rutledge initially decided to build the plots to teach children about food and where it came from.
“The biggest unexpected outcome was what it does for the children that don’t fit in,” Ms Rutledge said.
“[They] just don’t fit into the athletes field or the academic field or they’re just on the fringe.”
A vegetable plot has been established for each year level at St Raphael’s.
The project relies on students to volunteer their time to tend the plants, and they have flocked to take part.
“Some of the girls in the playground were being a bit mean, so I came here to be myself,” year five pupil Georgie Anning said.
“I enjoy getting my hands dirty and weeding and planting.”
The students say the garden is a calm refuge from the sometimes rough playground or sports field. (ABC Central West: Kathleen Ferguson)
Fellow year five student Brodie Whitty also felt the garden gave him purpose in the playground.
“Some boys can be a bit competitive in some sports and all that, so the garden is pretty good,” Brodie said.
Ms Rutledge said there were countless examples of students who had come to help in the garden because they were being bullied or felt marginalised.
She recalled a boy from year three who was having problems in the playground.
“He opened up and he said, ‘I have ADHD and trouble follows me but today I’ve had fun’, and I had goosebumps all over me,” Ms Rutledge said.
St Raphael’s students stop to smell the flowers in the school’s garden. (ABC Central West: Kathleen Ferguson)
The school gardens were established in 2015 with funding from Landcare.
An ecosystem has also been developed around the gardens to attract pollinators such as bees and other insects to the vegetables.
Year five pupil Jayden Azzopardi has encouraged other students to join in.
“I like helping people learn about it, what is a weed and what isn’t a weed and how to plant [vegetables],” Jayden said.
The pupils tackle tasks such as weeding, watering, and planting with relish, but there is one job that is not quite as popular.
Year five pupil Tilly Porter said she did not particularly enjoy tending to the compost bin.
“Because it smells heaps!” she said.