Next year, students at L.C. Kerr Elementary School will see something new outside their classroom windows. Twelve raised garden boxes will occupy the now vacant space between the kindergarten and first grade halls where mobile units once stood, offering students not only a more pleasant view but also, and most importantly, numerous new learning experiences.
Clinton City Schools and the Sampson County Cooperative Extension Agency are working together to bring this new garden project to the elementary school.
“It came out of the Steps to Health program that we have been doing with Clinton City Schools for about three years now,” said Amanda Bradshaw, extension agent for 4-H youth development. “The Steps to Health program is a state provided program, and we apply for a grant every year to do it. In that program, we teach second and third graders about the food groups, how many servings of each food group they should eat, just basic healthy eating information.”
“One thing we have really been focusing on in that program is teaching kids about foods that can be grown and purchased right here in Sampson County, which is a lot,” continued Bradshaw. “The program is really good, but I can hold pictures up of vegetables all day and the kids won’t really get the whole process. We feel they are missing the link of where their food is actually coming from.”
Out of this observation came the idea for a hands-on garden project at L.C. Kerr in which the teachers and students care for the vegetables — tomatoes, squash, cucumber, cabbage, brussel sprouts, lettuce, broccoli — from start to finish. “This includes daily care like watering, weeding, watching out for problems with bugs,” noted Bradshaw.
Teachers will also incorporate the garden and its produce into their curriculum.
“You can teach anything with a garden. You can teach science, math, even history,” shared Bradshaw, noting that even when things do not go as planned there are still plenty of opportunities for students to learn. “If a plant doesn’t grow for some reason, you can discuss why that may be. You can talk about what happens when it rains and when it does not rain. There are teachable moments everywhere.”
Just this week, Bradshaw sent out a survey to the teachers at Kerr to see how knowledgeable they are about gardening. “We want to get a feel for the different knowledge levels we are working with. Each teacher will not be able to have their own garden box. There will be three to four teachers assigned to one box which is a good thing. For one, they can each take turns in caring for the box, but it is also an opportunity to have teachers with varying levels of knowledge using the same box that way they will be able to help each other.”
To help prepare all of the teachers to work with the garden next school year, Bradshaw and Jeff Swartz with Clinton City Schools are planning to hold a summer workshop for teachers. “We are going to show them how to use it, how to incorporate all the different subject areas,” said Bradshaw. “These teachers are smart so I have no doubt that they will pick it up and run with it.”
Although the program is still in the planning phase, Swartz, Bradshaw, and many others in the community are working hard to make this idea a reality.
“Ronnie Warren’s shop class at Clinton High School is building the 12 above ground beds for us,” said Swartz. “They will be 16 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 3 1/2 feet tall.”
Clinton High’s horticulture teacher Chris Stroud and his classes will also be involved in the project. “His classes will help us get the plants started in the greenhouses,” said Bradshaw. “I am also thinking that this might be a good opportunity for his students to do some teaching with the elementary kids.”
According to Bradshaw, the Clinton Garden Club and the Master Gardeners will play an important role too. “They will be assigned to teachers at L.C. Kerr as garden buddies. That way, whether the teachers have a lot of gardening knowledge or not, they will have someone they can contact for advice.”
Once the project is up and growing next year, L.C. Kerr teachers and students will be able to use the produce from their gardens in the classroom.
“It can used in a lot of ways. The kids can dissect the vegetables, taste them, smell them, observe them,” noted Bradshaw.
However, according to Swartz, the produce from the school’s garden boxes cannot be served in the cafeteria due to federal laws. “We cannot properly monitor the produce like is required so we cannot use it.”
So Swartz has come up with another plan to drive home to students the connection between what they grow in the garden to what ends up on their plates.
“Whatever vegetable is ready to be harvested, I am going to try and make sure that that particular vegetable is available in the cafeteria that week, maybe even that day it is being harvested, for the kids to eat,” explained Swartz.
And project organizers are also going to make sure that the produce that is not used in the classroom for learning purposes does not go to waste.
“Right now, any of the food that is not used, we are planning to donate it to the soup kitchen and to other local ministries,” explained Bradshaw. “This will help increase our community’s vegetable consumption.”
“We are really excited about this. It’s a big team effort and I think everyone involved is excited,” said Bradshaw. “We want to see the kids connect with the soil and the plants. It should help them make the connection between the plant and their food better.”
“Kids are more likely to eat, or at least try, a vegetable that they have grown,” Bradshaw pointed out, “and that’s the main thing about this project. We want these kids to become lifelong healthy eaters and that has to start at a young age.”
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at email@example.com.