Trion City Schools

school greenhouse
Begonias and ferns are thriving in the school greenhouse.

Good things are growing at Trion City Schools in Trion, Georgia! The winner of a 2016 Eat.Learn.Live. and Grow Grant from KidsGardening, sponsored by Chartwells, their wide array of robust gardening programs benefits students from elementary grades through high school with projects as diverse as campus beautification, nutrition education, and helping to alleviate hunger in the community. Says Carla Harward, Co-Curricular Program and Community Outreach Coordinator for Trion City Schools and Georgia Master Gardener, “We have created a new agricultural interest and ‘buzz’ around school that didn’t exist before, tied to the total experience of gardening, nutritious food, and healthy living. More remarkable things to come, for sure.”

Fifth graders all participate in a Junior Master Gardener program, developed and taught by Ms. Harward. Tied to state science standards, students learn about plants in the classroom; then put what they’ve learned into practice in an outdoor classroom with eight raised bed planters. In fact, all elementary students have the opportunity to experience inter-disciplinary learning opportunities using these garden beds as part of their daily schoolwork. “Presently, the plants in these beds are tied to sensory learning: herbs the students can smell and taste; prickly and succulent plants they can feel and taste; flowers they can see and smell and collect seeds from to propagate,” says Ms. Harward. To help students appreciate the natural bounty of their state, one bed demonstrates a mini-native ecosystem. It’s planted with the native Georgia passionflower, known as the maypop, a plant that serves as larval host for the beautiful Gulf Fritillary butterfly. “The kids get to observe the plants growing, learn about flower parts from the flower, taste the fruit produced, and learn about and observe butterfly larvae metamorphosis,” she adds.

Harvesting potatoes at Trion City Schools.

In addition, thanks to the grant funding, fifth graders now enjoy learning opportunities year round in the school greenhouse. This past year they planted seeds of monocots and dicots in the greenhouse, started seedlings of corn early for planting in the outdoor garden, and grew potatoes (many kids had no idea where potatoes came from before they grew them). Experiments delving into inherited traits and cross pollination are planned for the future.

At the high school level, the “Green Team” program developed a new curriculum tied to Georgia’s agriculture career pathways and focusing on healthy living and good nutrition. The project began with three wheelchair-accessible raised beds built by the high school shop students and donated five-gallon bucket planters. Says Ms. Harward, “ Our High School Green Team received unparalleled gardening experiences growing donated succulents; enjoying edible flowers, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, onions, radishes,  and carrots from our raised bed planters; propagating begonias and ferns; organizing a successful fundraiser of plants they grew; learning about and sampling tropical plants; and experimenting with growing Muscadine grapes in the greenhouse.” She also notes that, thanks to a generous community donor, Green Team students were able to get an introduction to hydroponics. They grew lettuce, herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers, all the while learning about the science of hydrogen and pH in the process. “Community  attention is following all we are doing and generously contributing to our learning,” Ms. Harward adds.

Students in all grades are also giving back to the community by participating in the schools’ Helping Hands Ending Hunger program. This began as the middle school club’s initiative to reclaim unopened and uneaten milk, juice, fruit, and packaged foods from the school cafeteria and distribute it to fellow students and their families in need. In less than two years, the program saved over 24,000 pounds of food and reduced CO2 emissions at the school by over 17,000 pounds! The program has now expanded to include a monthly mobile market that, in collaboration with the Chattanooga Area Food Bank and local farmers, distributes over 30 pounds of fresh produce per student a month, along with nutritious recipes featuring the fruits and vegetables. With the help of Trion’s student leaders, the program is expanding to other schools nearby.

The entire school community enjoys the benefits of the gardening program’s beautification of school grounds.  “The greenhouse, nearby raised bed planters, and community herb garden are truly a sight to behold,” says Ms. Harward, “drawing a lot of attention not only from students, teachers, school staff, and administration, but also from the community. Our high school art students participated in painting a garden theme mural on a donated garden shed built by our high school construction class. It’s a true work of art.” Green Team participants have taken over the care of planters around the school campus, planting them with flowering perennials and annuals. “Not only are students learning how to care for plants and diagnose problems, by creating something beautiful they are also developing a sense of pride and confidence in their gardening expertise and making very personal, worthwhile contributions to the school.”

Finally, Ms. Harward points to the benefit of the garden programs in helping students develop important life skills, including self-confidence, dependability, communication skills, team work, sharing, caring for others and the environment, empathy, a sense of community, and the importance of healthy living.

The Green Team has exciting plans for the future to keep students engaged and learning. “I believe our gardening program is a success because we focus on making gardening trendy and visible —incorporating traditional and modern gardening practices and creating a product everyone can be proud of and enjoy,” says Ms. Harward. To that end, they are planning to add an aquaponics growing system incorporating fish production along with plants to their garden portfolio soon.

We at KidsGardening say, “Keep up the great work!”

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