At Myers Elementary each Wednesday during the school year, Christine Worl's fourth-grade students transform themselves into masters. Junior Master Gardeners, that is.
Myers Elementary is just one of 12 schools in Hall County that participates in the Junior Master Gardener program developed by Texas A&M University, and is supported by volunteer hours from Hall County Master Gardeners members.
"The program we have is geared toward elementary school, third through fifth grades, and it's a three-year program," said Mindy Wade, Master Gardener and chairwoman for the JMG program.
"Kids at that age are so eager to have their hands in the soil; they're enthusiastic, and if we can start them out at that age with a love of gardening, they'll carry it with them forever."
Taught as part of some schools' curriculum and offered as an after-school activity, students are required to complete projects from a JMG Gardener Handbook and other workbooks in specific gardening series.
At the end of the program, participants are awarded certification by the National Junior Master Gardeners.
Jan Tuttle, a nine-year veteran Master Gardener, volunteers to help Worl with her Wednesday class.
"What I'm teaching them is a JMG program on health and nutrition from the garden, because I'm also a dietician."
"We have about 45 master gardeners that work with the program," Wade said. "Some of us have children or grandchildren in (a) particular school and we let the HCMG pick where they want to work."
One of the Junior Master Gardener programs is operated through First Baptist Church on Green Street. The students in that program use the HCMG demonstration garden located at the Hall County School Board building adjacent to the church.
Wade estimates that the JMG program, which is in its third year, has about 300 students participating.
Funding for the program comes in the form of grants from organizations like the National Gardening Association, the Georgia Master Gardener Association and even the Hall County Master Gardeners themselves.
"Most of the schools, through grants and donations, have purchased garden trowels or work gloves for the kids," Wade said. "Most schools have (purchased) rain barrels and composters."
During the fall expo recently held at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center, the JMG students raised funds that will go directly back into their own school's program.
Lanier Village in Gainesville, where Tuttle and her husband are residents, donated a tool shed complete with gardening tools and wheelbarrow to Myers Elementary. Tuttle plans to have the JMG students help plant daffodils at Lanier Village this fall.
"(The students) learn a lot but the real value, I think, is that someone comes every week and cares," Tuttle said.
The Hall County Master Gardeners program is a volunteer organization. Its members spend many hours on community beautification projects in addition to the time they spend trying to make a difference in the lives of Hall County's children.
Jan Tuttle doesn't foresee giving up her work in the JMG program any time soon.
"I'm 75 now, so who knows?" Tuttle said. "I'll just keep on keeping on. My husband said, ‘no matter what else you have to give up, do not give up that program because you come home so happy and so animated.'"