North Elementary School students saw their gardening efforts bloom over the past year.

In collaboration with the Monongalia County Extension Services, the West Virginia University College of Human Resources and Education, and Monongalia County Technical Education Center, students were introduced to garden-based learning through the construction of 13 raised beds and a container garden in May 2011.

A new $2,000 grant from Whole Kids Foundation and FoodCorps will allow them to further develop their green thumbs. The project originally began as part of a $5,000 grant from Lowe’s.

“The additional funding allows us to facilitate student garden activities and projects, especially in the summer,” said Dr. Jim Rye, science education professor and Monongalia Extension Services Master Gardener. “We are encouraging students to return with their parents to care for their projects in the gardens during the summer, and their crops will still be flourishing when they return to school in the fall.”

Rye said about 70 families will serve as volunteer caretakers this summer, up from 24 last year.

The initiative expanded its harvest year-around with the addition of spinach for the fall and winter, raised with the use of cold frames. The expansion also includes first-time preschool involvement that will include a grow station in the classroom.

“The indoor grow stations allow the students to germinate their own seedlings indoors and transplant them to the raised beds to continue growing, expanding garden-based learning throughout the school year,” Rye said.

The funding also allows North Elementary to engage in themed projects, such as three sisters gardens, with student teachers from the Benedum Five-Year Teacher Education Program at WVU.

“Varieties of beans, corn and squash comprise three sisters gardens,” Rye said. “The corn supports the beans while the squash grows around the outside of the beds, reducing weeds and serving as ground cover. It is naturalized engineering. These gardens are from the Native American heritage, so they bring both a cultural and historical aspects to garden-based learning curriculum.”

The students develop basic research questions about the three sister gardens, such as which varieties will germinate first or which beans will reach the greatest height, and gather data throughout the year to support their hypotheses.

The Benedum Five-Year Teacher Education Program students are also conducting research as part of their WVU course work for the project, through which elementary students are surveying parents and peers about preferred crops to be sold at the Morgantown Farmers’ Market. They presented their findings for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics in April.

“They discovered the most popular product is tomatoes because of their variety,” Rye said. “They are amazed by the amount of sizes, shapes and colors. There are so many types of tomatoes.”

Future plans for the initiative are partnerships with other WVU departments to expand garden-based learning to other Monongalia County schools, using North Elementary as a model.

“Our goal is to incorporate design-based learning because the project lacks infrastructure for outdoor classrooms. We want designs that will best fit the teachers’ needs and to create garden tools and transportation mechanisms that are easier for kids to handle,” Rye said. “These efforts will make garden-based curriculum more useful and accessible to all users.”

To find out more about garden-based learning, visit the North Elementary School produce stand on June 30 or a Saturday thereafter at the Morgantown Farmers’ Market.



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CONTACT: Christie Zachary, Human Resources and Education