Educational Gardens

Local public schools are growing green thumbs.

Lynda Roche (teacher) and Kai Jordan (student) evaluate the different textures and smells of the herbs in Stenstrom Elementary's educational garden.

Lynda Roche (teacher) and Kai Jordan (student) evaluate the different textures and smells of the herbs in Stenstrom Elementary’s educational garden. Photo by Amy Smith

Gardening is so “in” right now, and the trend has sprouted roots in Central Florida’s schools. Despite budget cuts, several public elementary schools are earning grants to build educational gardens on campus to bring an interactive learning experience to our children — and the kids couldn’t be happier.

A case in point: Stenstrom Elementary in Oviedo. Last summer, Stenstrom’s PTA president, Betsey Jewell, got wind of a new program called Lowe’s Hometown Heroes. Through the program, participating Lowe’s home improvement stores award a grant to a local nonprofit organization or K-12 public school that’s in need of an upgrade. As the parent coordinator of the STEM leadership program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) at Stenstrom, Betsey brought the idea to the team. “Our timing was incredible. They had just opened up the application process, so we submitted photos and spoke with [the Oviedo Lowe’s store manager] about our vision for the garden. We heard back about two weeks later — our project had been chosen!” says Betsey. The $1,200 award package included all of the plants, pavers, soil, mulch and lumber, as well as a team of Lowe’s volunteers to build it.

The garden was in full bloom the first day of the 2012-13 school year. It’s right in the middle of the school, and kids love to run on the paths, touch the plants and explore nature on their way to class. Dr. Sharon Tanner says that teachers are able to use the large garden for outdoor lectures (there are built-in benches that seat a classroom of children), or they can plant, observe and evaluate organic experiments. For example, a second-grade class cut the top off of a pumpkin, added some soil and watched to see if the seeds would grow. They did!

The garden provides valuable opportunities for the kids to learn, get some fresh air and spend time connecting with nature. Many other Central Florida schools have followed suit. Goldsboro Elementary Magnet School in Sanford built a garden this year for its teachers to use as outdoor classrooms by way of the NASN SCOPE grant. Also, Wilson Elementary School is implementing a Green Club next year for students, which will eventually include an on-campus garden.

If your child’s public school hasn’t implemented an educational garden yet, approach the PTA about creating one. A few hundred dollars and some volunteers is all it takes to create a healthy and dynamic learning experience for our kids.

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