Gardening project sparks kids’ interest

Noticible by flower beds bursting with color and trickling water that cascades over a rock formation, students in the BADGE program at Brady Elementary obviously don’t take their gardening lightly. The students in the Brady Advanced/Gifted Education program (BADGE), comprised of approximately 50 students from first through fifth grade at Brady Elementary School, initiated the project during the 1999-2000 school year. “They decided to transform an unattractive, empty area behind the school into an Outdoor Learning Center (OLC) available to everyone at school,” said Jan Gardner, a teacher at Brady Elementary School and project director. “Their goal was to provide a beautiful place for experiential learning about plants, insects, birds and the effects of weather and climate.” The OLC also functions as a pleasant setting for teachers to utilize as an alternative to conducting class indoors. Funding for the project in the first year was provided by a $2,000 mini-grant from the Learn and Serve America Program which supports service projects through which students also learn important academic skills and concepts. “To enable the students to continue the project into the 2000-2001 school year, I applied for and received a $4,000 expansion grant from Learn and Serve America,” said Mrs. Gardner. Additional grant money and supplies were also provided by the National Gardening Association and the Captain Planet Foundation. Students have taken an active role in the creation of the Outdoor Learning Center. The first year, BADGE students designed the area to include an arbor, four large flower beds, a butterfly garden, a small circular flower bed and two small square flower beds. A gravel pathway links the arbor and the four large flower beds. In order to achieve their objectives, the students gathered information through research from experts and through hands-on experiences with plants, gardening, landscape design, birds, butterflies, insects and worms. Each group of students focused on a specific part of the project. The fifth grade students were responsible for creating the overall design of the OLC and for selecting the plants. “They drew site plans to scale involving the use of mechanical drawing tools and complicated math skills, conducted hours of research about plants and learned the basics of landscape design from a guest speaker,” said Mrs. Gardner. The fourth grade students became experts on soil as they learned about the types of soil, its chemical components and the nutrients the soil must provide for plants. They conducted soil analysis tests and advised the other students regarding the necessary amendments required to grow healthy plants in the garden. The fourth graders also built a water sprinkler system from PVC pipe, after a school neighbor demonstrated a similar device. The third grade students concentrated on learning about birds and butterflies and how to attract them to the OLC. They created a butterfly garden (which is shaped like a butterfly) and helped to select appropriate plants for butterflies in each stage of life. The second grade students enjoyed hands-on learning about earthworms and their importance in he garden. They shared their knowledge with the fourth grade soil experts and their two identical flower beds were used to conduct research comparing the growth of plants with and without earthworms in the soil. The first grade students learned about beneficial insects and even released lady beetles in the garden. All of the students devoted many hours of hard labor, struggling to transform rock-hard clay soil into planting areas, installing edging around the flower beds, staining the wood for the arbor, creating the pathways and installing the plants. The learning activities also included the performing arts and extended to all students in school. To keep everyone informed of the progress of the OLC, the students conducted a weekly program on “K-BADGE” radio over the school’s intercom. The highlight of each week’s program was a contest to answer questions about gardening information that had been presented during the program. The winning classroom received a special treat such as lunch and entertainment at the “B and B” (birds and butterflies) Caf’, provided by the third grade BADGE students. The children also presented a musical entitled “The Garden Show,” which was directed and performed by the students. “At the end of the year we had a special ceremony conducted by the students, dedicating the Outdoor Learning Center to the school. BADGE students who were members of the ‘charter group’ that created the OLC are recognized by brass name plates on the arbor. One student said, “When I’m old, I can bring my grandchildren here and tell them that I helped to make this beautiful place.” Teams of students have continued to maintain the OLC during the summer months. “These students were very proud of what they achieved that first year, and justifiably so,” said Mrs. Gardner. In an effort to expand the project into the 2000-2001 school year, the Brady Elementary Garden Club was formed so that more children could participate. Initially, approximately 75 students joined, although that number was reduced somewhat by the end of the year. “Some kids had too many activities during the spring, and others simply decided that gardening wasn’t their ‘cup of tea’,” said Mrs. Gardner. Garden Club members learned about plant development and the basics of gardening, they helped to plan and implement changes to the OLC, installed new plants and maintained the OLC. “We added a storage building, a planting area for Texas native plants, a planting area to experiment with erosion control, a long flower bed along the new wing of the building and several trees and shrubs,” explained Mrs. Gardner. A major project for this year has been the installation of a drip irrigation system in all of the planting areas which required students to do research and experimentation to determine the most effective means of watering all the plants. “The irrigation project was initiated by fourth grade students during the school year and was completed this summer and directed by student ‘expert’ Wayne Cox,” said Mrs. Gardner. “Now, all the plants can be watered more efficiently and easily.” A pond with a waterfall was also added this summer. Lillie pads to compliment existing water plant life and goldfish will be added next week. Students apply technology skills to keep a record of the project. The school has purchased a video editor and some of the students will produce a “professional” video about the project by combining the many tapes the students have taken of the work in progress. Others will create a multimedia presentation using digital images or work on a scrapbook with photographs of the project in all phases of its development. “I am extremely proud of the students that have participated in this project,” said Mrs. Gardner. “They have combined critical thinking, newly acquired skills and information and hard work to create a beautiful outdoor area for the school. “I believe that the students have learned much more than gardening and academic skills. Many of the students have discovered an interest in gardening that will provide a lifetime of pleasure and could possibly lead to a career in a field related to horticulture. “They have experienced the satisfaction of accomplishing a difficult task, which required many hours of toil in the cold, wind and hot sun. Several students faithfully work in the garden throughout the summer. “Our achievements would not have been possible without the help of volunteers who have generously donated their time, expert advice and hard work. Members of the Brady Garden Club helped install new plants the first year and several ladies continued to help this year by volunteering their time each week to work with the school Garden Club. Parents have also supported the project by working in the garden, donating products and supplies and encouraging their children to remain committed to the responsibilities of being in the Garden Club. “We also appreciate the support of local businesses,” Mrs. Gardner said. “Higgingotham’s and Four Season’s Nursery provided discounts on supplies and their expert advice is free. Young’s Ready Mix donated the soil and sand and Gina Hepburn donated many plants and freely shared her knowledge and experience. “We also appreciate the support of the Brady Independent School District central office administrators and staff, campus administrators and office staff and the maintenance crew.”

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