Posted Date: 07/05/2018
Students at Shady Grove Elementary School are growing their own fruits and vegetables. The school project, called #GrowingGardens#GrowingMinds, is part of the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities initiative, which brings together volunteers and community leaders to promote healthy lifestyle choices by connecting nutrition and fitness education with gardening.
Dvawn Maza, a special education teacher at the school and the garden project coordinator, said the project provides a “living laboratory” for students to explore nature and enhance science skills. The school partnered with AgCenter experts to establish a Healthy Communities work group that identified gardening, exercise and nutrition as educational priorities.
Former Shady Grove principal Jerlyn Bobo said she sees the garden as a way to enhance student achievement through teaching healthy lifestyles. “Our motto is ‘healthy minds, healthy bodies,’ and if we can get students to experience healthier foods and learn how they are produced, it will help them in the classroom,” she said.
Volunteers place wooden boxes in the school yard for raised beds as part of the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities initiative at Shady Grove Elementary School. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter
The healthy living outreach included a series of nutrition classes and food demonstrations through SNAP-Ed and Happy Healthy Me education programs, along with fitness programs like 4-H Yoga for Kids classes. Looking for funding to promote more hands-on learning experiences, Maza teamed with AgCenter staff and the Northeast Louisiana Master Gardeners Association for technical and educational assistance to seek local support.
The school successfully sought funding from three grant sources. A Lowe’s Toolbox for Education grant for nearly $5,000, combined with a $2,000 grant from the Whole Kids Foundation and a Junior League of Monroe mini grant of $500, funded the purchase of garden supplies and materials to provide a raised garden bed for each classroom at the school.
The project included growing vegetables and herbs, planting fruit trees, and developing butterfly gardens, composting and recycling projects. Each class had a small greenhouse box to start seedlings indoors and plans include building a larger greenhouse on-site with garden furniture to create an outdoor classroom.
Hoping to win additional funding to sustain the garden project, the school 4-H Club has entered the Carton 2 Garden contest, a national campaign that focuses on creative and sustainable uses for repurposed milk and juice cartons. “I expect to see bees and butterflies, the plants will bloom and grow, and we might even move them into the garden,” said James Blackson, a fourth-grade 4-H’er who helped with the contest entry.
Students place information cards in plants that are part of the Carton 2 Garden contest that's included in the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities initiative at Shady Grove Elementary School. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter
For the contest, 4-H’ers upcycled wooden pallets to build a garden structure and used more than 100 recycled milk and juice cartons to plant marigolds and make butterfly houses as a way to learn about recycling and the role of pollinators and study metamorphosis. Garden signs and decorations were made from recycled cartons and feature character education slogans like “Bee Kind, Bee Helpful and Bee Friendly” to target bullying. Additional signs in the pollinator garden highlight science educational standards for teachers to tie in recycling, pollination and the food web.
“Not only does the project provide academic support, but it is also getting volunteers involved in our school,” Maza said.
Kindergarten teacher Tracy Cargile said she is looking forward to the taste testing after the harvest and wants students to learn more about how their food is grown. “Foods don’t just come from a can,” she said.
Other local community groups have teamed up to provide sustainability and support through extended learning experiences. Matt’s Music of Monroe has donated wooden pallets for use in building compost bins. Ouachita Green, a nonprofit community organization that teaches about recycling, has agreed to build the compost bins and provide recycling education. Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge has pledged to help with the butterfly gardens and teach students about pollinators.