A national grant is enabling students at North Laurinburg Elementary School to learn healthy habits and practical concepts - and they’re getting their hands dirty along the way.
The Cooperative Extension Program at N.C. A&T State University was awarded a five-year grant by the National Children, Youth, and Families at Risk Program. The grant provides for the establishment of three model community gardens in the state, one of which is located in Scotland County, to assist families in reducing food costs in addition to providing educational opportunities in areas including diet and nutrition, gardening, youth entrepreneurship, and exploration and community leadership.
The grant is currently in its fourth year, with a focus on the establishment of school gardens. Scotland County Cooperative Extension is collaborating with students in the North Laurinburg Communities in Schools Program in the planting and harvesting of two vegetable gardens.
“it’s actually one of our initiatives and I approached the cooperative extension to see if they could help us out in this,” said Janna Blue, Communities in Schools coordinator at North Laurinburg. “We have five basics that we strive to met, and one of those basics is a healthy start and a healthy future for each child. With the garden, it’s health and it’s academics because we’re hoping that the garden will become an outdoor classroom.”
Communities in Schools is a nationwide dropout prevention program that focuses on targeting at-risk children in the elementary and middle school grades.
The grant provides materials and instruction for an above ground garden on the school campus. Blue is working with Family and Consumer Sciences Cooperative Extension Agent Sharon English and community garden coordinator Sarah Brown, who offer expertise and hands-on learning experiences for the students.
Concepts learned in the classroom are reinforced in the garden, as students practice their measurement skills, learn different plants’ specific needs, and plan watering schedules.
“It’s an opportunity to offer hands-on, appropriate instruction that translates into a healthy lifestyle for our students and their families,” said Blue. “We want to build an outdoor instruction board to leave out by the garden so that classes can come apply concepts that they’re learning in the classroom.”
Although the garden is a Communities In Schools initiative, it is available as a learning ground for all students at North Laurinburg.
“The garden project is excellent and the students love it,” said North Laurinburg Principal Rodney Byers. “They are excited about it and all of them want one for their class. This is project-based learning at its best, which our students are being introduced to this year. I would like to thank Communities in Schools for doing this project at North Laurinburg and I look forward to them doing more with our students in the future.”
Over the last two weeks, students have planted collards, red and green cabbage, kale, broccoli, and butternut squash using the square foot gardening method. Additional programming opportunities will be provided throughout the school year including introductions to hydroponics, plant anatomy, and soil characteristics.
For many students, their hard work in the garden will pay off, as it will give them their first opportunity to cook and eat home-grown produce.
“They’re really excited - asking a lot of questions about how often do they water it and when is the harvest,” Blue said. “That’s the most popular question: when can we eat it. It’s a learning process for them.”