Students excitedly turn over sod and fill three raised plant beds with soil. Then they plant the seedlings whose growth and life cycle they will later track before eating the fruits of their labor.
As summer approaches, instruction in several Prince George’s County schools — such as Gaywood Elementary in Lanham and Scotchtown Hills Elementary in Laurel, where students helped plant new gardens last week — is moving outside.
Gaywood and Scotchtown Hills elementary schools will join at least a dozen others in providing gardens for hands-on environmental education lessons on how plants grow, what role plants play in a balanced diet, and why gardeners place more than one type of plant in each bed.
“A lot of the kids don’t have gardens in their own homes,” said Jessica Harvey, a fourth-grade teacher at Scotchtown Hills who spearheaded the planning for the school’s garden, which opened Thursday. “They can actually get out there and see it’s not hard to have a garden.”
Students at Scotchtown Hills planted apple and pear trees, and assembled six raised plant beds that will go along with a Growing Healthy Habits curriculum from the Food Supplement Nutrition Education program of the University of Maryland Extension, said Deborah Archer, a project leader with the program.
“Students have this buy-in,” Archer said. “They are cultivating, maintaining ... and then they harvest.”
Ten Prince George’s County schools have received or will receive next school year a $500 renewable grant from the FSNE program for their gardens, Archer said.
Scotchtown Hills Elementary and Gaywood Elementary received donated materials from local home improvements stores, teachers at both schools said, and Gaywood Elementary put $500 from another grant toward its garden.
The Growing Healthy Habits curriculum emphasizes healthy eating habits, physical activity and family time prompted by gardening, Archer said, but students also practice their math and language arts skills while gardening.
Teachers at Scotchtown Hills and Gaywood said students will measure plant growth and the amount of water needed, and they might respond to journal prompts about gardening.
“We hope it provides a multitude of unique experiences to draw a lesson plan off of,” said Jacob Novick, a bilingual character education coordinator at Gaywood Elementary.
He said students might learn about composting, the migration of monarch butterflies and water conservation through the use of rain barrels.
At some schools, students and parents volunteer to water and care for the gardens over the summer. At others, custodians and year-round staff members watch over the gardens during school breaks.
The lessons being planned by teachers at both schools correlate with the state’s year-old environmental literacy additions to science and social studies curricula. The eight strands touch on sustainability, environmental issues, humans’ effect of natural resources and other topics, according to state department of education documents.
But it’s more memorable when students learn about the environment in their own garden, Harvey said.
Kiarra Fennell, a first-grade student from Lanham who helped turn over the soil in preparation for planting at Gaywood Elementary on May 22, said she has already learned plants need soil to grow.
Kiarra and her mother, Yolanda Fennell, grow canteloupe, squash and green peppers at home, they said. But Fennell said she is glad Kiarra will learn about the environment at school, too.
“When you teach them [about the environment] here, it also teaches them math and reading,” Fennell said of her 7-year-old daughter. “I’d like for her to get into environmental science.”