School gardens teaching students, enriching experience for teachers
By Susan Riddell
To Shellie Fuqua, a garden is a place of “meditation, exercise, practicality and spiritualism.”
It’s also a place to learn.
Fuqua, a family consumer science teacher at Bryan Station High School (Fayette County), started a school garden at her school last year. She incorporates the garden with core content to make her students more aware of what the physical world offers them on a daily basis.
“A garden is a place to do something yourself that has visible results,” Fuqua said. ”This builds pride and a connection with nature and the world around us that I feel is incredibly important to a person’s life. I believe that people need a break from the technologies around them a few moments out of each day to stop and smell the tomatoes.”
Janelle Mason, family resource center coordinator for the Hardin County school district, is in her third year with a garden at Lincoln Trail Elementary School. She and parent educator Deb Kodama have created a unique gardening program, Get Going Gardening, which focuses on family togetherness, healthy eating and outdoor activities.
Mason said the experience children get out of the garden is critical with regard to physical activity that some students miss out on when they are preoccupied by other things.
“Many of our children live extremely structured lives with school, structured after-school programs, sports and more and have little time for unstructured contact with nature,” Mason said. “Because of safety concerns, children don’t play outside like they used to, and so many spend hours with video games and television.
“Our school garden gives us a chance to help families find ideas on how to expose their children to nature and to understand the importance of exposure to nature and growing things. We offer low-cost ideas and are finding that families are excited about going home and replicating ideas that they have seen here at the Family Resource Center.”
Mason’s garden is a sensory garden that started out with lambs ear, mini hollyhocks, hens and chicks, basil, mint, parsley, tomatoes, and snapdragons. Peppers, squash and a raised bed with lettuce, radishes and onions also have been added.
In May, Lincoln Trail Elementary 4th-graders planted a Three Sisters Garden (corn, squash and beans) in preparation for a Native American unit they will study as 5th-graders this fall. Students planted cotton the last day of 2009-10 school year, as well as sunflowers and elephant ears
“We also are growing potatoes in cardboard banana boxes and have sprouted an avocado seed,” Mason said. Fuqua’s garden at Bryan Station High is just as plentiful. She said sugar and snow peas, collard and mustard greens, lettuce, spinach and broccoli already have been harvested, while cabbage, onions, Chinese chives, two types of garlic, four varieties of tomato plants, sweet and hot pepper plants, lavender, lambs ear, Lemon mint, yellow and green squash, Mammoth sunflowers, oregano, beets, carrots, three different radishes, pumpkins and watermelons are growing or have been planted.
“Last school year, we had just a few of each plant in our beds and are trying out which does best in our climate and soil,” Fuqua said. “Beans and okra were planted so that they are harvested this month. We will do a fall/winter garden of greens and peas and cooler items at the start of second semester.”
While the gardens can be planted based on the seasons, student learning happens throughout the school year.
“My program alone offers lessons in culinary, economics, life cycle and development, in addition to working in the engineering department (hardscape designs), art department and science … even history in the stories of Victory Gardens and former school gardens,” said Fuqua, who added that she can often “sneak in health, nutrition and physical activity lessons.”
Mason said teachers in other areas at Lincoln Trail Elementary have been known to feed off of the excitement of the students.
“There is an education process with the teachers,” Mason said. “Once we get them to bring their students to visit, they start thinking of ways they want to use the garden area. Once they experience the excitement that the students have for the garden, they want to get more involved and explore the curriculum ideas we have.”