We all know that the Zombie Apocalypse is a fictitious depiction of humanity returning in the worst karmic form. Or do we? What would we do? Would we know how to start again or how to survive?


Albeit dramatic, at Leckie Elementary School in Washington DC, we have done three things exceptionally well to sow the seeds of our sustainability initiatives:

  • Package urban horticulture as sassy and hip
  • Let the kids have ownership and input
  • Host tasting parties from our harvest


Make urban horticulture sassy and hip. At Leckie, we frame gardening or urban horticulture as a sassy new way of life. We have a full-time school gardener whose only job is to peddle and inspire thoughts of sustainability, and integrate these thoughts in mainstream talk and conversation. She is not your grunge, hipster type at all. She is sassy, hip, and beautiful (not that grunge hipsters aren’t sassy and beautiful-it’s just very easy for the kids to type-cast the “kind” of person who engages in urban agriculture.)  When the kids harvested zucchini and garlic, I was amazed and impressed at their ease and comfort in the garden. I shouldn’t be so surprised, the kids have had input every step of the way, including input on the bed design and signage.


Let the kids have ownership and input. High levels of engagement are so important for exposure.  Let students get their hands dirty and garner experience. It honestly is the best teacher in this scenario. Gwen, a 5th grader, learned from experience that harvesting zucchini can be rougher than it looks. She patiently modeled to 3rd graders how to harvest ripe zucchini without scratching their hands.


Host tasting parties from our harvest. The kids were bubbling with excitement at the prospect of preparing food at home from their actual harvest. Comparing zucchini chip preparation and snap pea and garlic uses would make the foodie in all of us smile.


The children have so much pride in their garden. Visitors are surprised when they hear 10 year old Washingtonians talk about gardening in what seems like a world apart from rural farmland.

Billie Holiday’s lyrics put everything into perspective: “God Bless the child who’s got its own.” Our kids are gaining experience and skills in organic survival. ABCs are one thing but independence is another altogether. The seeds we’re planting at Leckie are those of positive dispositions toward green living. And if the zombie apocalypse comes to pass, our kids will know how to keep us alive with their dope urban horticulture skills.


Atasha James serves as the Principal of Leckie Elementary School for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). In this role, she leads 60 faculty and staff who serve Leckie’s 525 scholars to ensure all students achieve at their highest potential and have a love of school and learning. At Leckie, 93% of the students say they love their school and would recommend it to a friend!  Prior to becoming Principal, Atasha taught at the elementary and middle school levels before working with Teacher Educator Institute at the State University of New York at Buffalo, while completing her doctoral studies. Atasha led schools in Buffalo City Schools and Anne Arundel County Schools before making DCPS her home.  In recognition of her achievements, DCPS offered Atasha a three-year appointment, and she was awarded the Rubenstein Award for Highly Effective Leaders. Atasha is a Mary Jane Fellow Mentor Principal and is among a short list of school leaders recognized for closing the achievement gap in both math and reading for three consecutive years.