Growing Confidence

By Eve Pranis

"A couple of years ago, a student's grandmother who's committed to reaching kids through gardening offered to help our students develop an application for the National Gardening Association's Youth Garden Grant program," reports Hills, IA, teacher Lisa Woods-Hall. The fourth to sixth graders, intrigued by the volunteer's enthusiasm and support, collaborated to develop and describe plans for a schoolwide garden program that would involve families and the community. Last year, they were rewarded with $500 worth of tools, seeds, bulbs, and other supplies to bring their vision to life.

"After a successful gardening year, the kids wanted more ways to involve the community and to extend their growing into the spring and fall," explains Lisa. "This goal and the confidence inspired by their grant-writing success, prompted several students to suggest raising funds to purchase a Growing Ideas school greenhouse kit, then to build it themselves."

An environmental T-shirt sale yielded enough funds for the greenhouse kit, and a parent carpenter offered to head up the project. "The students determined what additional materials were needed, such as gravel, paint, nails, and so on," notes Lisa. "Then they compared prices and solicited donations from parents and businesses via letters and phone calls."

Upper elementary students worked in teams to accomplish the more complicated building tasks, sharpening their problem-solving and math skills in the process. Second and third graders participated with simpler jobs like painting greenhouse components. "The sense of community, ownership, and responsibility that has developed through this process has been astounding," observes Lisa. She recounts that when a high school student vandalized the greenhouse, students were terribly upset and protective, and many realized for the first time how it felt to be victimized. "Rather than press charges," she adds, "the students asked that the perpetrator help repair the damaged greenhouse, and we all healed a bit in the process."

To help younger students and community members appreciate how a greenhouse functions and to envision project possibilities, the older students created a multimedia computer presentation using HyperStudio. At the time of this writing, students had just completed greenhouse construction and were planning how to use their new growing environment, integrate it with their outdoor gardening projects, and involve the community. Their vision includes starting a tree nursery, raising seedlings for a butterfly garden, and growing plants to donate to a roadside prairie project. Students hope to involve the larger community by using the garden and greenhouse as settings for Master Gardener workshops, working with members of a local retirement community, and summer day camp program activities.

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