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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA interns sprout gardens in local schools

    Students are breathing life back into education through the Community and School Garden Program at the UA’s School of Geography and Development. As gardening enthusiast Linda Solegato says, “Plants give us oxygen for the lungs and for the soul.”

    Each semester, students interested in bringing the joys of gardening into the classroom take part in this internship-based course. As a part of the program, students at the UA are paired with a school or community garden.

    At the garden, they work to develop a science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, curriculum and foster ideas of sustainability, ecology and biology among elementary to high school aged students.

    The program attracts a wide variety of students from many different majors, each bringing their own specialties to the schools. According to Morgan Apicella, Community and School Garden Program instructor, as of this year, there are a dozen schools and two community gardens involved with the program.

    Integrating school gardens into STEM education provides many more rewards than the produce itself. According to the National Gardening Association, school gardens help increase science test scores, improve socialization and behavioral issues and foster healthy eating habits.

    At Manzo Elementary School in Tucson, students use worms from worm compost bins to learn about both counting and decomposition.

    In a kindergarten class at Manzo Elementary, preceptor Kellie Sheehan saw the rewards of gardening firsthand. “I saw personal and social skills grow as the shy kids came out of their shell and I saw their curiosity flourish,” said Sheehan, a sustainable built environments senior. “This hands on form of learning allowed students to get a better grasp on writing, language, math, science and everything in between because they were able to see it first hand and apply it to a grade-appropriate problem.”

    Other interns, such as Jacklyne Volpe, a former environmental science student who is currently working on her MBA at Eller College of Management, were able to provide a healthy and lasting impact on their school.

    Volpe interned at John B. Wright Elementary School and spearheaded the effort to establish a certified school garden along with several teachers.

    “They just needed someone to kick start it,” Volpe said. “[The certification process] was a rejuvenation for them.”

    Schools can achieve certification by going through the Arizona Department of Health Services School Garden Program. By becoming certified, schools are able to serve their garden-grown produce in their cafeteria.

    This has enabled schools like John B. Wright Elementary to host tasting events with their garden harvests.

    Volpe was inspired to pursue certification at her school when students began asking her if they could eat the food they had grown.

    Early last year, John B. Wright Elementary achieved certification and held a celebratory harvest event.

    “They made salads for everybody,” Volpe said. “We had six pounds of strawberries that we harvested and were able to use in the salad, and just pounds and pounds of lettuce.”

    After seeing how rewarding gardening is, many students have been inspired to start gardens in their own homes.

    The experiences gained through the Community and School Garden Program have left lasting impacts on the interns as well.

    “I live in that neighborhood, which is part of the reason I wanted to do this for those kids,” Volpe said. “I have a set of children who attend that school that live in a house across from the alleyway from me. They literally have expanded their [home] garden into the alley. I love looking back there.”

    For Sheehan, being a part of the Community and School Garden Program has increased her knowledge and brought her closer to finding a rewarding career.

    “I found a love for teaching that I never even knew existed thanks to this program,” Sheehan said. “I will be pursuing a Masters of Education in Learning Design and Technology. Once I complete this degree, I will have the knowledge and experience to train teachers on how to teach the kind of curriculum used in a school garden.”

    The Community and School Garden Program provides an excellent example of the UA’s 100% Engagement initiative, while allowing schools to bring science to life through their school gardens.

    It allows schools to create a sustainable and edible learning environment, which will provide years of learning, all at the drop of a seed.

    Follow Natalie Robbins on Twitter.

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