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McEver kids learn science, vocabulary through planting
School got grant to create kitchen to cook food grown in greenhouse and garden
McEver Arts Academy first grade teacher Angie Stephens leads some students as they plant an acorn in soil in the school’s greenhouse Thursday afternoon. The container will be placed in the school’s garden classroom to be studied when an oak tree sprouts in the spring. From the left the students are Giselle Mesquital, 7, Faith Stiwinter, 7, Miguel Duarte, 6, and Jeremy Soto, 7.

Two years ago, McEver Arts Academy first-grade teacher Angie Stephens decided to create a school garden.

Using bricks left over from a dump site, she built raised beds in the yard outside her classroom. Now filled with flowers and vegetables, the beds help showcase the garden's newest addition — an 8-by-16-foot greenhouse, made possible by the school's Lowe's Toolbox for Education grant received over the summer.

Joe Strickland, an English to Speakers of Other Languages teacher at McEver, hopes the greenhouse classroom gives kids more experience seeing a project through from start to finish than they would get from a typical pencil-and-paper lesson.

"We're a charter school with arts-based instruction," Strickland said. "We're trying to expand the arts base. Most people think of graphic arts like painting or the performing arts . . . Things like color palettes and landscape architecture come in with gardening."

Strickland sees the importance of having hands-on knowledge to English Language Learners.

"They can put an experience with vocabulary. By having something tangible it becomes more meaningful to them," Strickland said. "If I can show them a deciduous tree versus an evergreen tree, it would make more sense to them than seeing it in a book. Pictures are good, but reality is a valuable thing."

On Thursday, Stephens' class planted acorns in the greenhouse. These will be transplanted onto school grounds in the spring when they're big enough.

"We will start things like beans and squash and cucumbers so they can transplant them into the raised beds," Stephens said. "I try to incorporate a lot of the science within other subjects, so I spend more time out there."

Students will also grow bedding plants to be used on campus and at home, Strickland said.

"I do like to plant," first-grader Sandra Hernandez, 6, said. "I'm excited that I'll be able to plant in (the greenhouse). I like to plant flowers . . . Sometimes I like to smell them and they're pretty."

While Hernandez said she would like to plant a coconut tree in the greenhouse, her classmate Vincent Sperandeo, 6, would rather see radishes growing.

"I like planting seeds because you can plant carrots and cucumbers and squash . . . and then you can eat your garden," he said.

Sperandeo might soon get a chance to do just that.

McEver also got a grant to create a Kids Kitchen, which they will use to cook food grown in the garden and greenhouse.

"When we do get the kitchen, it's going to be great to see the whole cycle from seed to plant to food," Stephens said. "A lot of kids think food comes from the grocery store, not from the ground."

Strickland will teach a 45-minute gardening class to students every Friday, Stephens said. The greenhouse will be used across all grade levels.

"First grade has a standard that's the needs of a plant," Stephens said. "They'll learn that plants need water and the parts of the plant, like the roots, stem and seeds. It also gives them a lot of experiences to write about."


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