Give a 7 or 8-year-old a chance to play in the dirt. Tick off learning objectives in science, math, reading, and social studies. Make learning kinesthetic to increase retention of facts learned. Help children meet needs in their community. Add in opportunities to produce wonder and a few giggles and you’ve got a great rationale for a school garden.
Which is exactly why Sharon School second-grade teacher Danielle VanCleave requested and received grant money from Farm Bureau three years ago and why she continues to seek community and corporate support today.
Her current crop of second-graders saw the fruit of their predecessors’ labors when they arrived in August to the remains on the tomato vines (the community enjoyed the bounty during the summer) and cucumbers, squash and zucchini. They proceeded to plant sweet potatoes and last week harvested almost 30 spuds that will be used as part of the Thanksgiving meal the students will enjoy in the coming weeks.
The newly dug spuds arrived just in time as the children were learning about life cycles which Sadarius Echols quickly explained is when you plant the seed, add water and sunshine and “then it will grow.”
All were eager to tell of their most recent digging and especially wanted to point out that on Halloween, when they reaped their first sweet potato bounty, Remington Owens, dressed as Spiderman, had “saved the day” by helping their teacher free a particularly large potato from the earth.
After showing their guest reporter where they keep their tools and the two beds that house their planted treasures, the students, who were both emotionally and physically invested in what would be found, took turns looking for their remaining rewards.
Some may not have completely mastered digging over flinging dirt but with each new discovery the joy on the faces of Trey Walters, Kathy Stone, Carter Harris, Zoey Muzzall, Jace Johnson, Sadarius Echols, Brycen Edwards, Nevaeh Donnell, Rylan Guzman, Bella May, Davis Tims, Maddilyne Hazelwood, and Hunter Edwards was undeniable. (Remington Owens and Winter Donnell were absent.)
Several declared that “it feels like a workout,” like “we were at a gym” of the energy released.
“When I see their excitement of harvesting those sweet potatoes, I want people to know the impact it’s had on my students,” said VanCleave.
Not only does the garden supplement in-class learning, VanCleave who grew up on a farm thinks the experiential lessons are valuable as well. “I’ve got kids who don’t what a mud pie is,” she pointed out.
While she and her second-graders are the school’s keepers of the garden, the effort would not have been possible without community support. Farm Bureau’s Ag in the Classroom grants helped launch the project. Rep. Andy Holt served as the coordinating farmer for the grant. Other grant monies and information came from Northwest Tennessee Food Network. Bethany Allen of Weakley County Schools coordinated school health program gave funding for the soil. Bob Shumake, UT Extension Agent and county 4-Hers built the two beds. Jeff Lannom, also of the UT Extension office, provided the initial overview for the children. Sharon residents Penny Branson and Gary Eddings tilled the beds. Ali and Randy Stalter helped with seed planting. And Assize Bills donated 24 tomato plants last spring.
VanCleave beams when she talks about what she hopes will grow from their fruitful beginnings. More grant money will help purchase a tiller and expand the number of beds. Fruit trees and berry bushes and even live chickens are on her wish list.
“I’d love it to become a source of food for the community,” she adds.
Until then, she would be thrilled to introduce more farmers and gardeners to her students to help explain to the children how to best take care of what they have and maximize the space.
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