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Learning is in the air as second-graders visit Gardens on Green in Gainesville
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Karen Bird, left, and Trae Cown prepare to let Sugar Hill Elementary second-graders taste fruit and spinach smoothies Tuesday morning as they make a visit to the Gardens on Green.

Screams of delight and wonder echoed through the trees, signaling another second-grader had found an earthworm in the compost heap.

“We were over there. We got to carry worms,” second-grader Eveline Romero said, pointing to the edible compost station that substituted pretzels for wood and gummy worms for actual earthworms.“My other favorite part was the second one because we got to eat a little snack.”

On Tuesday, Eveline and her fellow second-graders from Sugar Hill Elementary fanned out at Gardens on Green next to the Hall County Schools Central Office for the “Growing with 2nd Graders” program. With the help of volunteers, many of whom are Hall County Master Gardeners and school system staffers, the program offers a unique learning approach to enrich the lessons students learn in class.

During the program, the children are separated into groups and visit five stations at Gardens on Green. They learn about gardening basics, the life cycle of butterflies, the native plants in Georgia and nutritional information about fruits and vegetables.

Second-grade teacher and field trip coordinator Kristi Rayner enjoyed seeing the students participating in hands-on activities out of the classroom that complement her lessons in the classroom.

“We study life cycles, so it meets our science standards perfectly,” Rayner said. “They love it, especially the magnifying glasses.”

Each week a different school arrives at 9 a.m. with busloads of excited second-graders ready to get their hands dirty.

“We do the life cycle of the plant and the life cycle of a butterfly and it just goes perfectly,” Rayner said. “We actually are at the end of our unit, so it’s perfect timing.”

The program is outdoors in the gardens, meaning during inclement weather the trips are postponed. But on this particular day, the sound of rustling leaves ready to fall was the perfect learning background for children who chattered during lunch about their outdoor lessons.

“I’ve been doing crafts about the life cycle of a butterfly,” second-grader Fernando Rodriguez said, confirming he was having a good time and the lessons lined up with his class lessons.

Toothy grins and laughter only disappeared when the children took big bites into apples, which dwarfed the appearance of their little hands.

Second-graders Olivia Agnew and Sara Pile agreed they were having fun as they giggled. 

“Plants have different names for P-L-A-N-T-S,” Pile said, after the seed garden segment in the vegetable patch with Master Gardener, Dr. Danny Askew.

“The P stands for place, the L stands for light, the A stands for air, and the N stands for nutrients, and the T stands for thirsty, and the S stands for soil,” Pile said in an almost chant, quickly joined by the others at the table.

In the seed garden, students plant their own radish seeds they can watch grow over the next few weeks.

“The smoothie one over there was my favorite,” Agnew said pointing to the new station made possible by a grant received from the Captain Planet Foundation.

Trae Cown, school nutrition coordinator for Hall County schools, manned the nutrition center that featured a blender used to create smoothies.

“With this we were afforded a little bit of excitement. So we do smoothies, which they really, really like,” Cown said, adding the grant also funded an induction skillet.

Each  lesson is designed to enhance skills a second-grader can complete, such as measuring ingredients, counting and doing simple fractions. 

“We want to figure out how to incorporate and cook vegetables that they’re not likely to see at home or be exposed to,” Cown said, often surprised at the number of students who don’t recognize whole fruits and vegetables.

He explained the “Growing with 2nd Graders” program encompasses all five stations at Gardens on Green at 711 Green St. in Gainesville.

“After they leave our station, anything that they have left over, like the banana peels, they’ll carry to the compost station,” Cown said. “They get to see the full cycle of everything.”

The garden is open to all during the summer.

“Now that they’ve been through the whole garden they can guide their own parents through.” said Bonnie Martin, a Hall County Master Gardener who helped with the lifecycle of a butterfly station.

The children also leave with souvenirs including a craft tracking a butterfly’s transformations through life.

“There’s just everything. It’s really just a great resource to have,” Martin said.

To learn more about Gardens on Green, visit hallmastergardeners.com.

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