CCISD campuses plant, tend gardens
By BRITTANY FHOLER
Students at two Copperas Cove schools are getting a lesson in sustainability and responsibility through gardening, with pre-kindergarten students and junior high students maintaining their own gardens this semester.
Students at Copperas Cove Junior High have planted two separate gardens for the Outdoor Adventure and Farm to Table classes.
This year marks the first year that Outdoor Adventures, an alternative PE class, has been offered to students. The class teaches more than gardening, focusing on life skills such as fishing, camp safety, hunter safety, First Aid/CPR, land navigation, plant recognition, how to track animals, outdoor cooking and how to pitch a tent, as well as archery. There are about 120 students taking the Outdoor Adventure class this year, Miller said.
The students took a poll on what items they were interested in growing, with the top winners being jalapenos, watermelon and strawberries.
Other vegetables and fruits planted include cucumbers, green beans, purple green beans, yellow green beans, zucchini, squash, spinach, corn, okra, broccoli, dill, cilantro, sage, parsley, kale, lettuce, onions, carrots, eggplants, potatoes and peas. All of the fruits and vegetables started from seeds, except for the strawberry plants which were donated by Home Base.
In addition to the open space garden, there is also a greenhouse, purchased with a grant from the Education Foundation. The grant also covered the purchase of fishing equipment, a tent and a fire pit.
The students in Miller’s class enjoy getting their hands dirty and learning about the growing process.
Eighth grader Mary Grace Checksfield, 13, especially likes helping and spending time in the garden. Checksfield, who is autistic, said it helps her focus. She spends much of her free time in the garden, picking weeds and finding lady bugs.
Checksfield brings a change of clothes every day in case she gets dirty while spending time in the garden, Miller said.
Last week, she was able to take home lettuce grown in the garden for a salad for her school lunch the next day.
Once more of the plants start producing fruits and vegetables, the class will hold a Farmer’s Market to allow the students to sell the produce they’ve worked hard to cultivate and raise money to buy more seeds and anything else needed for the garden, Miller said.
With the recent rains, the garden has especially grown, and the class has begun collecting rain water to have water on hand for the items inside the greenhouse, she added. The class is also taking steps to attract bees and butterflies to their garden by hanging hummingbird feeders filled with nectar.
Kenny Marquez, 13, said his favorite thing about the garden is the soil. He helped with the transplanting of the seedlings from the small pots they grew from seeds in to their place in the ground.
Through the garden, Marquez said he’s learned about the different plants, including how strawberries and potatoes grow. He brought avocado seeds and lemon seeds from home to add to the garden and is excited to see them grow.
As the students transplant the seedlings, they talk to the plants, giving off carbon dioxide and helping the plants grow even more, Miller said.
Though not all of the items in the garden are ready, the students have gotten the chance to eat fresh-picked strawberries and enjoy the fruit of their labor.
The Farm to Table class has its own separate garden at CCJHS and is currently waiting on the chance to begin gardening at S.C. Lee Junior High.
Jessica Salazar became the new teacher for the Farm to Table class at S.C. Lee back in March and said she has been doing her best to show the students where their food comes from, without an actual garden due to the greenhouse being upgraded this year.
Despite being without a garden, Salazar cooks with her students every other week and teaches about nutrition and serving sizes and the benefits of each fruit and vegetable used.
Before they begin a recipe, students learn about where the ingredient originated from, beginning with the seed that makes the grass that the cow eats and how the cow provides the milk for the dairy product and the meat for the beef products, Salazar said.
Students in Salazar’s class have also created a periodic table of fruits and vegetables, featuring the health benefits and where they originated from.
“Some of them are excited to come back next year to garden, because that is the main part, where our class should be focusing, with the majority of our products coming from our garden.” Salazar said.
During the summer time, Salazar plans on planting seeds for the squash and other vegetables so that when school starts up in August, the students can transplant the seedlings and watch them grow and eventually harvest them.
Over at Mae Stevens Early Learning Academy, a group of about 20 pre-kindergarten students make up the Late Bus Garden club, named because their bus runs about 20 minutes later than others, and led by Brandy Petty, the school’s parent liaison. During the time that the kids would have played or run around previously, Petty enlisted the help of the kids in cleaning out the three garden beds located on the blacktop back in February.
“As time went on, we read books about planting seeds and about growing things and then we had various people in the community donate stuff so they could create our school garden,” Petty said.
Home Base and Walmart donated soil, pots and more to make the garden come to life. The students also made a wish list of what they wanted to grow.
“They got pretty much everything on their wish list, except for meatballs and candy and stuff like that,” Petty said. “One of our kids wanted to plant tomatoes and meatballs, and somebody else wanted to plant candy, so I think that we made their wish list come true as much as we could.”
During their 20-minute wait now, the students sing and water the plants in their garden.
“They love it,” Petty said. “They take a lot of pride in it, and they come and water it, and they pick trash out whenever they come to the blacktop.”
Through the garden, they are also learning more about responsibility, sustainability, recycling and reusing, Petty added.
The garden includes tomatoes, butternut squash, marigolds to keep bugs away, cucumbers, basil, parsley, sweet peppers, onions, beets, strawberries, spinach, and more.
Marry Derrick, principal at Mae Stevens Early Learning Academy, said that despite there being previous gardens, this is the first time there’s been an actual set of students taking care of the garden.
“She’s taken that time when they were just running around in the gym, kind of crazy, and turned it into a useful time,” Derrick said about Petty’s efforts.