Down in the dirt

Published 9:42 pm Thursday, May 12, 2011

Kilby Shores Elementary School worked with the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community to develop a learning garden last fall. What started as a small plot has now grown into a larger garden in which all grade levels can plant vegetables.

School learning gardens introduce kids to gardening

Students are getting their hands dirty and growing their own vegetables while learning all about the food they eat through learning gardens.

Teachers at Kilby Shores and Mount Zion elementary schools have developed the gardens alongside the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community’s gardens committee to help kids learn about gardening and growing food while incorporating math and science lessons.

From left, fourth graders Saleena Lynch, Gary Jones, Brandon Lassiter and Brennan Jones work with fourth-grade math and science teacher and garden club coordinator Millicent Dove, center, to plant new vegetables in the school’s garden.

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Garden committee chair Kay Cherry said after the committee developed several community gardens in Suffolk, the Partnership wanted to work with Suffolk Public Schools.

“We wanted to work with children and teach at learning gardens,” Cherry said.

During the organization’s thought process, one of Cherry’s students at Eastern Virginia Medical School said she had been in touch with Millicent Dove, a fourth-grade math and science teacher at Kilby Shores, who wanted to be a part of a garden project at the school.

The Partnership helped Dove and the Kilby Shores students get their garden ready last fall and assisted Mount Zion with its garden in March.

Mount Zion’s garden club, The Green Team, has 21 students from third through fifth grades and is led by Angela Blanton, a second-grade teaching assistant.

She said although the garden is not very big, the students still enjoy it.

“It’s not a very big success, but the kids are having fun just watching it grow,” she said.

The gardens serve as a way to introduce the children to where their food comes from, as well as including lessons about healthy eating and portion control.

But the gardens do more than that, Cherry said.

“There are any number of Standards of Learning that the garden addresses,” she said.

The students learn math skills when they use measurements in the gardens. Science skills also are incorporated as the students learn about plant growth, plant-animal interaction, weather phenomena and other topics.

The Mount Zion students have planted marigolds in large pots and are experimenting with different fertilizers in each pot to see how they affect growth.

“(The students) are really interested,” Cherry said. “They dive right in there.”

To incorporate even more material, Cherry said the EVMS student, the Partnership and Kilby Shores are working together to develop an intensive curriculum that incorporates the learning gardens into math and science SOLs.

The curriculum is being reviewed by Dove and Kilby Shores principal Seazante Oliver, and Cherry said the Partnership will help make revisions after it has heard their input.

In the proposed curriculum, one experiment that addresses science standards has students placing a pumpkin in a glass box in their garden to observe its decomposition over time.

“The students actually get to watch over time how a pumpkin decomposes,” Cherry said.

For now, the students at least get to try the veggies they grow.

In the fall, Kilby Shores’ students planted vegetables such as collards, and although the garden did not yield a great harvest, the kids got to taste the fruits of their labor.

“There was enough for the children to understand their output actually resulted in something,” Cherry said.

What started as a small plot in the fall at Kilby Shores has grown into a large garden with planting locations for every grade level.

“It’s beautifully landscaped,” Cherry said. “It’s like a little English garden, only with vegetables growing in it.”

Students in Dove’s class help with garden upkeep such as watering and mulching, but she said she hopes at some point each grade level will help.

“My hope is every class will come out during recess and keep it up,” she said.

Until then, Dove said her class loves being out in the garden.

“Every day my class asks to go out to the garden,” she said.

Some of her students even work after school with her.

One of Dove’s students, Saleena Lynch, has helped with the garden since its beginning.

She said she loves working in the garden because she gets to taste what she grows.

“It’s hard work, but you get to eat it,” Saleena said.

Brennan Jones, another fourth-grader, said he likes being outside working in the garden.

“I like that it’s an opportunity to get outside and enjoy nature,” he said.

For more information on the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community’s garden committee, visit To learn about the schools’ gardens, contact Kilby Shores at 934-6224 and Mount Zion at 923-5244.