Haneefa Nabay, a second-grader at Arrowhead Elementary School, had the planting part down May 3 as she placed a lettuce plant in the Upper Marlboro school’s new organic garden, but she was less enthused about waiting to eat it.
“I just feel like I’m going to be healthy,” Haneefa said.
Haneefa, 8, of Upper Marlboro was one of about 65 second-graders to help plant a variety of lettuce, celery, cabbage, broccoli, peppers and beans in the school’s four new 3-foot-by-3-foot organic gardens behind the school. School officials said the garden not only will promote healthy eating, but also provide students with a hands-on demonstration of what they’re learning in science class.
Lauren Sipe, a guidance counselor at the school who helped organize the garden, said funding for the project came from a $2,000 student and employee wellness grant from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an Oregon-based nonprofit focused on fighting childhood obesity. Of the $500 set aside for the gardens, $350 already has been spent on materials, seeds and seedlings, Sipe said, and she hopes to use the remaining money for maintenance and to buy next year’s crops.
The school has spent another $200 on yoga materials for students who find “difficulty with competitive games” during recess and a wellness program for employees still is being considered, Sipe said. The school needs to spend the entirety of the grant within the next year, she said.
Sipe said the garden reinforces lessons the students already receive on both healthy eating and plant science. By the end of the school year, some plants will be ready for harvest, and the participants will be able to eat a salad using vegetables they planted.
“When the kids are there, seeing the plant or seed go into the ground, and actually see what happens to that seed, [they understand it better],” Sipe said. “There’s really a feeling of pride and they’re going to retain and learn that information better when it’s hands-on.”
A 2009 study by Purdue University concluded that hands-on learning techniques can help students more deeply understand concepts learned in a lecture or classroom as well as improve problem-solving skills.
Esther Mitchell, a master gardening coordinator for the University of Maryland Extension and the Prince George’s County Department of Environmental Resources, advised teachers and students about planting and gardening best practices. She said there are about 30 school gardens in the county, and that more and more schools have expressed interest in starting their own.
“It can help teach math, and even social studies and geography, since a lot of the food we eat isn’t produced in this country,” Mitchell said. “And of course there’s the social lesson of patience, since you plant the seeds, but you have to wait for them to come up.”
Second-grade teacher Audra Dyson said planting helps students understand the different stages of plant growth.
“I grew up in the country, but these kids aren’t really exposed to this,” Dyson said. “They have no real idea how their food is made, and this helps them understand that.”
Anaiya Johnson, 8, of Upper Marlboro said the May 3 lesson is encouraging students like her to eat healthy and to make ingredients on their own.
“We were learning about the different parts of plants and how plants need us and we need them,” Anaiya said. “[With the garden] you can actually see all those parts, and you couldn’t really see all the parts in videos or books because they weren’t really real.”