Yankee Ridge garden an educational tool

URBANA — Near the playground at Yankee Ridge Elementary, a garden of vegetables growing in raised beds attracts kids like cabbage moths.

The new garden is a collaboration between kindergarten teacher Jodi Miller and third-grade teacher Kelsey Outlaw.

With it, they're teaching students about the science of plants, renewable resources and the fact that they can grown nutritious food themselves.

And though it's an educational endeavor, it's one the students seem to greatly enjoy.

"I never have a problem getting kids to come out here," Outlaw said, adding that they've planted and watered both during their class science time and at recess.

Third-grader Corina Stafford said she likes working on the garden, even at recess. She also thinks about the garden during the weekend and looks forward to coming to school to see how the plants have changed.

"I really like helping out with planting and watering," Stafford said. "I'm not afraid to get dirty."

The project has been two years in the making, as the teachers figured out where the garden would go and how to make it work. Patti Pattison, the school's community outreach coordinator, helped them connect with community partners and University of Illinois organizations to get the garden started, Outlaw said.

The whole school planted seeds in milk jugs that were almost entirely split in half and filled with soil. Then, after students planted and watered them, they taped the split jug back together to create a small greenhouse.

Third-grader Bronwyn Garrett said she liked that activity.

"It was really cool to see how much they grew," she said. "Some grew so tall they came out the top."

Students also started seeds by wetting down cotton balls, adding seeds and sticking them in the fingers of the kind of plastic gloves food handlers might wear. Set on the windowsill, the seeds sprouted and their root systems developed.

"You can really see the parts of the plant" when sprouting seeds that way, Outlaw said.

She and Miller did plenty of research online about the garden, and many grants and resources are available about sustainable gardens at schools.

For now, the two classes take care of the garden, watering it once or twice a day with water they tote out of the school in watering cans.

During the summer, Miller, Outlaw and Bunny Treats 4-H Club will tend to it and by the time school starts in August, many of the vegetables in the beds will be ready to harvest. (The club gave the teachers a grant to build the large raised beds, with the understanding that they'd work on the project as well, Outlaw said.) Many other community partners and businesses contributed materials and labor for the garden, too, Outlaw said.

Outlaw hopes to then show her new third-grade class about preparing vegetables to eat.

The teachers have more plans for the garden and the lessons associated, Outlaw said. They hope to add worm composting bins, get the PTA and the school's parents more involved, to expand the garden so all Yankee Ridge classes can learn in it and to make labels so students can easily identify plants in the garden. They'll also work to figure out what plants they can grow on a large enough scale for students to actually eat. Right now, the garden has lots of peppers, peas and lettuce, with assorted other plants, like tomatoes and potatoes.

Garrett said her favorite part of the garden was watching seeds sprout and then develop specific looks as they matured.

She also liked how fast things changed. For example, the class planted edamame seeds last week and by Tuesday, they had sprouted.

"It's fun to see how quickly plants grow," she said.

Sections (2):News, Local
Topics (1):Education

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