Young gardeners are blooming at many Brevard County schools. In addition to the obvious lessons children can learn from planting and tending to a garden, many teachers and administrators sing the praises of other benefits such as developing the future stewards of our earth.
Golfview Elementary Magnet School, Rockledge
Seeing the value a garden could be to the school, Principal Jacqueline Feagin and others began working to find funding for the program about two years ago. Since then the gardens and enrichment of the students has grown beyond the classroom. Students learn about seeding, planting and harvesting vegetables that are then taken to the local sharing center and food kitchens for needy families.
Last year pre-kindergarten students picked collards to take to the Sharing Center. This interaction allowed for an improvement of interpersonal social skills and assisted in teaching students kindness and compassion.
“They are the next stewards of the earth. The garden is a natural progression of Character Counts,” says Jamie Hooper. Character Counts is a national character education program that is designed to instill in children the basic values called the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
All the teachers involved in the garden hope the wonder of fresh food will encourage kids to try vegetables and fruit. Principal Feagin hopes to one day incorporate foods in lunches. “The obstacle is having the time, but it is certainly a learning experience for children,” she says.
The gardens at Golfview have been more than a school project, the community has contributed to the gardens too. At the beginning of this year the Viera Women’s Club donated time and money for an additional garden. Fourth grade students weeded, plotted and measured rows working with the Women’s Club. Children added flowers and herbs around the perimeter.
Endeavour Elementary Magnet School, Cocoa
Endeavour’s gardens began over 6 years ago and have since evolved to include more than 5 different gardens- including a butterfly, hydroponics strawberry and a new edible forest garden.
For the past four years third grade students have mentored the kindergarten students in the different parts of the process, beginning with planting seeds. The kindergarteners rotate between classrooms and in each classroom the third grade students teach the kindergarten students a concept tied to the garden or plants. Kindergarteners are then in charge of watering and maintaining seed pots and replanting them into the raised bed gardens when plants are big enough. Every March kindergarten students invite pre-kindergarten to a “Welcome to the Garden” day, where they become the mentors and PreK are the learners teaching the younger students what the third grade taught kindergarteners.
Third grade teacher Katherine Nelson explains, “Research tells us that if a child teaches a concept to someone else, they will retain the most information- certainly a goal we have for our students. Besides, it is fun to take the students outside the classroom walls for learning. Nothing like getting some dirt under our nails- using all our senses!”
In addition to learning through doing, the ultimate goal is to teach students about being responsible to the earth and each other.
“We want to empower them to make a difference in the world, in our school, in their community and in their lives. Endeavour is Florida’s only (at this time) ELEMENTARY Service Learning Leader school. Our big garden project provides mentoring opportunities to intermediate students as well as provide an outdoor classroom for the school, opportunities to interact with nature and beautify our campus.”
Discovery Elementary School, Palm Bay
The students of Discovery Elementary School have designed and planted the school’s gardens over ten years including flower gardens, an herb garden, and many trees and shrubs. The environmental science club purchased a fountain, benches, and statuary to add interest to the gardens.
Students use rain barrels to aid with irrigation in dry areas- using the barrels to capture the run-off from roof air conditioning units.
Each year they participate in a spring plant-a-thon, partially funded through their own efforts, and partially by generous neighborhood businesses. They host guest speakers and use recycled and reusable materials to present puppet plays.
“We hope that the children will develop a lifelong love for gardening and a strong sense of responsible citizenship,” says Sheila Levine.
Discovery Elementary has also been awarded a grant for a “healthy foods” vegetable garden that also ties in to the curriculum. Space Coast Credit Union funded the grant in conjunction with the Brevard Schools Foundation.
The schools focus is not just on the gardens, but also on learning through doing. The structured time outside of the classroom gets students excited about learning and teaches skills that children take with them forever. It provides an opportunity to bring science, math, social studies, and language and visual arts to life through hands-on learning.