The Power of Choice: Electives at CMDS and a Spotlight on Gardening

by Alissa Abercrombie and Christine Groves

Walk down the hallways on any given Wednesday morning and you’ll see CMDS 5th and 6th Graders heading out to their Elective.

CMDS Curriculum Director Alissa Abercrombie

This 40-minute class, which CMDS launched this school year, changes each quarter. Students pick the class or subject they want to learn more about. Electives in robotics, student teaching, gardening, drama, math and public speaking have been offered this semester. Sewing, woodworking, set design, digital newspaper, CANstruction and Honor Choir are some of the choices for the spring.

Giving students a choice allows them to try new things or become more knowledgeable about something specific. Electives can also build confidence in students who may see the emergence of skill sets that aren’t so obvious in their core classes. It can spur a passion that students didn’t know was there. By choosing their own topic based on their own interest, students stay engaged and motivated to learn.

As our 5th and 6th Graders set their sights on middle school, we want to encourage them to flesh out their interests and discover who they are. Electives provide our oldest students with real experiences in time management, commitment, working collaboratively, making new friends and building self-confidence.

Here are a few responses from some of our 5th and 6th Grade students about the new Electives.

“I like getting to choose Electives because I get to try something new every nine weeks … I have chosen drama and gardening. In drama, I learned how to become a better actor by getting tips from Mrs. Ellis. In gardening, Mrs. Groves is teaching us how to plant things, and we are learning about what season is the best to plant them in.” – Bailey

“I like to choose my class because if someone chose for me, I might not get what I wanted to learn more about. I chose student teaching to have an opportunity to see how teaching feels. When I picked robotics, I learned how to program.” – Bennett

“I like being able to choose electives, and also I like participating in them too! The thing I like most about electives is that we can do another fun class besides the regular Encore classes that we go to every week.” – Caleb

CMDS Learning Garden Elective: We are growing!

Big Greens’ Kimbal Musk and CMDS Science and Garden Teacher Christine Groves at the opening of Next Door American Eatery in Crosstown Concourse.

The Learning Garden Elective has been busy this year enjoying the fruits of our harvest and planning for the winter and spring seasons. We have harvested tomatoes, watermelons, peppers, kale, beets and turnips among many others.

In September, the students learned about the origins of food Americans often eat on a daily basis. The students learned the nutritional value of eating food close to its source and why the term “farm to table” is being used so often in marketing. Garden Elective students also harvested watermelon, jalapeno, basil, cilantro and mint and then made watermelon salsa “farm to table” style. It was delicious!

Fast forward a few weeks to the “seedy investigation,” where they investigated the parts of the seed, seeds people eat and the seeds we use in the Learning Garden. Our young gardeners then harvested kale to concoct a kale and chickpea salad. To conclude the lesson, the students used their knowledge to help CMDS 2nd Graders plant seeds for the fall garden crops.

Those are just two snapshots of the amazing garden-based lessons that are going on in the Learning Garden Elective at CMDS. Try cooking the recipes below with your kids at home! It is empowering for kids to take charge of their nutrition.

The CMDS Learning Garden was installed through a partnership with Big Green, a national nonprofit that seeks to create a replicable, scalable school garden solution.

Garden Elective Recipes

Watermelon Salsa

Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir only until well combined. Serve with tortilla chips and enjoy! (Feel free to be creative at home – add a cup of diced cucumber or mango (or both!) or use different herbs like fresh cilantro or mint.) Makes about 3 cups.


  • 3 cups seeded watermelon cubes
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 jalapeño, diced and seeded
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
Chickpea and Kale Salad

Combine ingredients in a salad bowl and toss. (Get creative here too; add an avocado, sweet potato or sunflower seeds to change it up!)


  • Chopped Kale, 8-10 leaves
  • Parsley, 4 tablespoons
  • Garlic, 1 clove
  • Chickpeas, 1 ½ cups
  • Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup
  • 1 lemon, to taste
  • Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
  • Salt, to taste

Christ Methodist Day School opened its doors in 1958 to 75 kindergarten students. Since then, CMDS has stayed true to its Christian elementary school roots while continuing to thrive as one of the best private schools in Memphis. Come see why we are the primary choice for so many Memphis families.


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