Since arriving in Vista back in 2003 we have made many new friends. We tend to be drawn to people that are making a difference in the community. One of our new friends does a lot to make Vista the lovely place we now call home. I’m referring to Nancy B. Jones but thousands here in Vista know her simply as Farmer Jones. That’s the pseudonym she assumes when she teaches gardening and nature classes.
The Farmer Jones persona has existed for several decades and in the process thousands of inquisitive little minds have been taught about planting, compost, and worms. Yes, worms! You can read about the classes that Farmer Jones teaches monthly at the Alta Vista Botanical Gardens in past issues of thevistapress.com but this story is about the work Farmer Jones has done at Alamosa Park Elementary for over 20 years.
Photos by Mary Murphy
Nancy was one of several seasoned educators that opened the Alamosa Park Elementary school back in 1987. This is where “Farmer Jones” got her name. She is still keeping the garden growing, leading the Green Thumb Gardening Club, and having fun with kids. In 1995 she helped dedicate the Alamosa Park Elementary school garden, the Hawks Secret Garden. For that ceremony, she dressed as Johnny Appleseed with overalls, bare feet and a pot on her head. That day they planted 3 Anna apple trees on campus which are still producing fruit.
Alamosa Park Elementary School opened in 1987 in eastern Oceanside. The vision at the school is “to maximize the academic achievement and social growth of our children through consistent high quality instruction supported by student, staff and community involvement.” This amazing school has many active parents who participate in a variety of ways, including participation in the PTA, School Site Council, and the Educational Foundation as well as volunteering in the classroom. The school has over 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade and 23 teachers. The children have consistently surpassed state testing goals and Alamosa Park Elementary was named a California Distinguished School in 2010.
Educators and parents work closely together to offer an enriched academic program for students that include such events as Healthy Hawk Week, a week-long event in March during which students learn about the benefits of nutrition and exercise. The school also continues to offer the Farmer Jones initiated Green Thumb Gardening Club for students to learn about where their food comes from. Both efforts are sponsored by the Alamosa Park Educational Foundation, a nonprofit fundraising group for the school.
Principal Vivian Firestone had led the staff for many years but on Friday Oct. 23 we met a very dynamic Dr. Kyle C. Ruggles, Ed.D, the current Principal, as he led the monthly flag assembly. We had arrived before the school opened and after registering with the friendly gals in the office we watched as the students and to our surprise many of their parents, walked onto campus.
Our friend Farmer Jones met us in the office and gave us a private tour of the Hawks Secret garden. She proudly pointed out a Valencia orange tree that she had planted on Thursday with the Gardening Club kids.
We entered through a rose covered arch over a brick pathway that passed a beautifully mural painted wall. There we found the garden that had many unique features. Nancy proudly showed us some of these. The large compost bin, the worm bin, and the edibles throughout the garden reflected the hard work that had taken place over the past 20 years. The garden has survived the turbulence of weather, rabbits, and pests. The signage and the potting bench for the garden was the work of one of her former Green Thumb Garden Club students. Scott Baylon created these items for the Hawk’s Secret Garden as he earned his Eagle Scout rating with the BSA. Today his mother is still one of the teachers at Alamosa Park Elementary.
We had to hurry from the garden to the assembly area between the back board walls in the play area. Nick Henry, the Plant Lead 1, had set up the sound system and flags for the assembly. Like Nancy he has been at Alamosa Park Elementary since the school’s inception. As we arrived we saw something we never thought we would see. Hundreds of students were orderly filing into the area and taking sitting positions on the blacktop. They were animated, talkative, excited but still staying in place as they took their positions for the assembly.
What was even more surprising to us was the numbers of parents that were turning out for this assembly. We supported our children all through their school days and were always a little disappointed at the low participation from other parents. However, we realized that most of them, like us, were working parents. The turnout of parents at Alamosa Park Elementary speaks to the quality of the programs and the staff. I lost count at 42 but I know there were even more parents attending this assembly. Standing behind a group of students we met Robin Horst who is the current President of The Alamosa Park Education Foundation. The Foundation supports the school and all the student activities.
The monthly held assembly recognizes students in every class for three qualities and awards the students that create the best monthly poster. The qualities are Academic Achievement for Math, Academic Achievement for English Language, and Trustworthiness. The latter was described by Principal Ruggles as one of the “Pillars of Character”. In all, 60 students were called up to receive a certificate from the Principal. He shook every little hand and they stood in line at his side until all in their group had been recognized. The large kindergarten class was a separate group. But this wasn’t all the youngsters would receive for their outstanding effort. They were also getting to have a special lunch with Principal Ruggles that included ice cream. This is like Mayor Judy Ritter holding a special lunch to recognize contributions from Vista residents.
To start the assembly, student Natalie Cobian led us in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Then the Principal had a special announcement. He told us that the fundraising effort by the school on behalf of the American Heart Association had been very successful. He told us he was still a little sore from running his “money making” laps as I’m sure others were too. He drew a large applause as he made known the results. The $4,000 goal had been exceeded and the school had raised a whopping $ 10,700 for this worthy cause.
Today the assembly was even extra special and that was why we had been invited by Nancy B. Jones to be present. Today Alamosa Park Elementary was re-dedicating the Hawk’s Secret Garden. Farmer Jones came forward to lead the students and faculty in the school song some of which went, “At Alamosa we have fun no matter what we do.” The song ended with a rousing “Go Hawks!” Next, she asked for the help of her current Green Thumb Garden Club members. Twenty-one garden club members rose from their seated locations and came forward. They separated to stand in front of classmates and help Farmer Jones with the next song that featured the six plant parts. “Root, Stems, leaves, Flowers, Fruits, and Seeds” the school and visitors chanted together. Principal Ruggles proclaimed the Hawk’s Secret Garden to be the “best in the County”.
As you walk through this unassuming campus that sits on a sleepy looking residential street with a park and a hillside behind it, you find many murals and many fruit trees that have been planted here. What you don’t see at first is the dedication of the faculty, the maintenance personnel, and the parent volunteers. However, if you look hard and you look at the Hawk’s Secret Garden you can see the influence of Farmer Jones who after retiring after 40 years of teaching still volunteers at Alamosa Park Elementary with the Green Thumb Garden Club.
Nancy B. Jones is also the President of The Woman’s Club of Vista GFWC and she is planning a big party for April 17, 2016. That’s when the Woman’s Club of Vista GFWC (and not Farmer Jones) will officially be 100 years old.