By Terrica Hendrix
The Garden Lab at Nashville Elementary School has students excited to learn about the plant cycle, harvest, and science.
The lab is an outdoor classroom located behind the school.
Reese Worthington, Kaleb Halter, Emalea Bailey, Adelene Westfall and Jonathan Garcia are a few of the sixth grade students who attend the Garden Lab classroom.
Autumn Reeder, who teaches science, and social studies teacher Ace Howard have teamed up to oversee the lab activities. The science and social studies classes combined so the students have 90 minutes in the Garden Lab depending on the day.
“The Garden Lab will change science education for years to come at Nashville Elementary School,” Principal Latito Williams said. “Students will have the opportunity to learn about the plant cycle and the importance of agriculture. It’s refreshing to watch the excitement in the students’ faces as they chart the growth and progress of their plants. It gives them a sense of accomplishment and provides ownership in their daily learning.”
The idea of the Garden Lab began when “Blue and You for a Healthier Arkansas sponsored our annual Farm Day last spring,” former NES Science teacher Twyla Nichols explained last year.
“Farm Day is a sixth grade tradition in conjunction with our local FFA. Normally it is a time for sixth graders to get a first-hand experience of what FFA is about with a focus on a farmer’s life – animals/equipment/crops. Through Blue and You the focus became more of a Farm to Table approach- the need for honey bees, chicken and egg production, physical activity, and square foot gardening. The students rotated through stations and learned the healthy benefits of those things.”
It was decided that a garden would be a great way to “educate NES students about healthy eating, help them gain experience gardening on a small but beneficial scale, and support the newly adopted science standards. It was determined that the start up financing for six raised 4×4 beds was available through the same grant which sponsored the 2016 Farm to Table Summit,” Nichols added.
The students collect garden data by measuring the growth of the plants, determining which varieties yield the best harvest, monitoring the watering, rainfall, and temperature. “Seeing first hand how long it takes for enough produce to grow verses how quickly it can be eaten has opened our eyes to the importance of not wasting food. We all have a new appreciation for farmers,” Nichols said.
The 2015-16 sixth graders chose the current site for the garden.
“They love it…they are excited and they’re ready to taste (the vegetables), Reeder said.
Howard said that the “lessons are made especially for the class. You can link all of your subjects together with the Garden Lab.” Math classes measure the garden boxes and other items in the lab, Howard added. “[This is] a lab that can be used in any way.”
Students who would like read a book are allowed to go sit and read on the wooden benches – made by Jerry McCammack (his granddaughter, Macy McCammack is also a Garden Lab student).
Last month, the lab students planted radishes, onions, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, and turnip greens. There are now 12 [raised beds] boxes full of produce. Master Gardner Debra Bolding helped secure six boxes in August and put them in.
Halter said that he enjoys taking various seeds “home to grow because I think it’s pretty cool.” Every morning, Halter and Garcia water the mums and “some of the garden,” they said. Westfall said that the garden is “pretty cool…I can’t wait to eat it. The carrots are taking a long time, though. I think we are all ready to eat,” she laughed.
“I was experienced because I helped my grandfather (Harold Epton) with his garden and he had peas, greens, beans, potatoes, and corn. [The Garden Lab] teaches us more than gardening, it teaches life skills.” Bailey added. “The garden is progressing every day,” she confirmed.
“We will harvest the radishes next week,” Worthington excitedly said. “I am excited that our school has this…it is a team effort. It brought our school closer together.” Westfall said that the lab “gives us something else to talk about.”
“Fifth and fourth grade students will be really glad when they [participate in the lab],” Garcia explained. “I haven’t been this excited about vegetables,” he said.
“In the sixth grade at Nashville, we are already using the Next Generation of Science Standards adopted by the state. We believe we have been able to tie every science standard back to the garden in some way,” Nichols – who is now an art teacher for the Nashville Junior High – stated earlier this year.
“All Science begins with observation, and the Garden Lab has provided bushels opportunities to observe. We observed how soil moisture, air temperature, and other weather conditions affected plant growth. We observed pests and plant damage. By measuring, recording, and using our observations to look for patterns and draw conclusions, we were doing actual research. We reflected about our experiences and the different varieties we planted. Following our first lettuce harvest more than 1/3 of our students started choosing the chef salads as their lunch option. When we had an abundance of lettuce and radishes from the garden lab, we raffled family size salad kits for students to take home. One student told me it was the first time her family had ever eaten salad at home, and they loved it.
The Garden Lab has connected the science curriculum to our daily lives. Now instead of the science lesson being a concept on paper, we are making personal connections to our studies,” Nichols said.
In the 2015-2016 school year, NES exceeded both the state and national averages on the ACT Aspire sixth grade science test, according to Nichols.
NES Counselor Vanessa Keaster, Debra Bolding, Rita Rector, Sarah Powell, Donna Webb, Red Dirt Master Gardeners, Tony Fatherree Sand and Gravel, Howard County Sheriff’s Department, Nashville Mayor Billy Ray Jones, Miller County Master Gardeners, Nashville Demonstration Organic Garden, and many others have been instrumental in helping with the Garden Lab, Bolding said. She added that the Nashville community has always been willing to help in any way.