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Hands-on approach to learning at St Catherine’s


The view from St Catherine’s School in Stirling is dotted with trees and, in the distance, a garden bursting with vegetables.

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Reception to Year 6 students tend the bounty and feed the plump chickens that call it home.

They also use the produce as part of the Kitchen Garden Program, which the school engaged in earlier this year with the help of a Wellbeing SA grant.

Much-loved Australian cook and food writer Stephanie Alexander AO founded the national Kitchen Garden Foundation in 2004. It celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and St Catherine’s School is one of 126 current members across South Australia.

Other participating schools include Dominican School, Star of the Sea Primary School, St Brigid’s Primary School, All Saints Catholic School, Mary MacKillop Memorial School, St Anthony’s Primary School, St Columba’s Memorial School, Tenison Woods College, St Michael’s College (Primary), School of the Nativity and Nazareth Catholic College.

The program was created to support children and young people in positive and preventative health education through engaging, hands-on kitchen and gardening classes.

St Catherine’s assistant principal Krystina Dawe is thrilled with the results.

“We saw it as an opportunity to uphold our school values of respect, commitment, sustainability, honesty and compassion,” Krystina said.

“And to benefit student wellbeing.”

St Catherine's student Tommy with one of the school's resident chickens.

St Catherine’s student Tommy with one of the school’s resident chickens.

The cooking classes are a hit. Whether it’s kneading dough for a potato pizza, crafting an apple crumble from scratch, setting a table, or serving dishes, students love the hands-on preparation and garden-to-plate approach.

“There’s a lot of research that shows how important time outside and time in nature is,” Krystina said.

“Time off devices and the tactile experience of gardening is so good for wellbeing.”

The simple act of peeling a potato can be profound.

“Sure, you might lose a whole chunk of the potato while you’re peeling it but that’s okay. It’s been beautiful to see those skills develop.”

Krystina said the program has already gone above and beyond her expectations.

“Especially watching the students skills develop in the kitchen,” she said. “We take those motor skills for granted and often rely on technology and gadgets in the kitchen at home.”

Parents are invited to join in on the cooking and dining experience and children take the recipes home.

“We are a small school and community is very important to us,” Krystina said.

“It’s loud, but it’s a buzz and there’s plenty of conversation and connection. Every single child is completely engaged in what they’re doing.”

The program was kickstarted with the younger students and will soon be offered to all year levels.

“There’s so much curriculum alignment and the resources provided by the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation are outstanding,” Krystina said.

“It all fits with the Catholic education story of seeing students as capable, thriving people.”

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