ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Bill Boerman is a master gardener. His tools though, are not soil, sunlight or water. They’re questions, curiosity and character. His annuals are fourth graders at Woodbridge Elementary in Zeeland.

“I think that what excites me most is them as people. Watching them change from maybe being a little dependent on Mr. Boerman to do stuff, to by the end of the year saying, ‘Get out of my way, Mr. B. I got this,'” Boerman said.

Mr. B has been teaching for the last 26 years, helping to grow young minds into independent thinkers. Over those years, he has watched as the world has changed and the classroom has adapted. This year, he’s building something he’s never done before based on an observation made over two and a half decades.

“Teaching over the years, I’ve definitely noticed sometimes there were behavior issues in class, kids not getting stuff done, kids that were tired,” Boerman said. “We kind of connected the dots and said, ‘Well, what did you eat today?’ And they said, ‘Well, I had this, a donut for breakfast.’ Or, ‘I skipped lunch.’ Educationally, we’re not going to be able to do a whole lot until we nutritionally are meeting the needs of each and every kid.”

So now, with the brilliant minds of his fourth-grade thinkers, Boerman is building a garden. The students are the dreamers, project managers, construction managers and Boerman is the one pulling all of the resources together to make it happen. He’s partnered with local organizations like Rockford Construction to help mentor the builders and reached out to other local businesses like Gentex for help to supplement his $200 annual budget.

Earlier this year, he applied for Family Fare’s One School at a Time grant — $1,000 awarded to a local school that is creatively enriching the lives of their students, staff and community. This month, he found out he, his garden and his fourth graders were the monthly grant winner.

Fourth graders from Woodbridge Elementary work on their garden box.

“I think any veteran teacher will tell you that it gets to a point where you say, ‘I need help,'” Boerman said. “Because again, I can’t be everything to every kid, but that’s where things like Family Fare are coming in to assist.”

His students started to dream bigger when they learned they won, shouting out things they would use the money for in the garden. They cheered loudly as Zeeland Family Fare store Director Michael Grimm presented them with the $1,000 check.

“It’s important that we contribute back to the communities that have made us most successful,” Grimm said. “This is the highlight of my day, my week so far. To be able to come out here and see what they’re doing. And it certainly is impressive to see what they’re doing in the classroom on a day in, day out basis.”

Gardening can be a rewarding task when the proper care is taken and all of the resources available line up to help things grow. Just take it from Mr. B: You reap what you sow.

“I think that the phrase I use in the class a lot is: It’s not about me, but it’s about us. And that’s not just us in the classroom, but it’s us in the community, not just the school community, but the greater community,” Boerman said.

Learn more about nominating a school for the One School at a Time grant here.