Kids and Giant Cornstalks

Who grows 13-foot-tall corn in Alaska? Youth Garden Grant recipients, that's who! Glenn Oliver, a teacher at Kincaid Elementary in Anchorage, shared the story of the school's burgeoning gardening projects that grew out of their first garden, started with help from a 1998 Youth Garden Grant. Enormous cornstalks are an apt metaphor for the enthusiasm about plant-based learning that has spread through the classrooms and into the wider community since then.

The first year, Glenn's classes planted potatoes and corn. Students eagerly honed their academic skills by measuring, graphing, analyzing, and pursuing scientific inquiry in the garden. Though the potatoes grew plump and plentiful, the corn sported 3'-foot stalks. Students looked forward to the next growing season and more explorations in hands-on learning.

Long Alaska winters soon posed no hindrance to these pursuits, thanks to grants that helped the school build a 250-square-foot greenhouse. Crops thrived under the care of students, including corn measuring 11-1/2 feet tall!

Kincaid's growing adventures, kindled years before by their Youth Garden Grant, were roaring along like wildfire. This momentum helped them rally after a windstorm destroyed their greenhouse in 2003. Fortunately, a local foundation recognized the educational and community value of Kincaid's gardening program, and offered to pay for a replacement, which volunteers built within two days. Like Kincaid's corn, the second-generation greenhouse was dramatically larger. With double the space of the previous structure, there's enough room for any class or student to take advantage of this green learning lab.

Students have tracked garden data since the program started. "Each student creates their own journal. In recent years, they've been covered with paper made by the kids, the spines of the books are made of the cornstalks we've grown, and the child's photo is on the cover," says Glenn. It's an appropriate design, considering how plants and gardening have become an integral part of each student's education - and life - at Kincaid.

"I never imagined that so much could happen so quickly," says Glenn. How much more will Kincaid's program grow? If the corn is any indication, they're going to continue their amazing trajectory. When the kids recently measured their greenhouse corn, and announced the results with "squeals of glee," the stalks were 13' feet tall!

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