Flowers, students both blossom at Baton Rouge school

Paul Coreil, Blanchard, Tobie M.  |  5/9/2008 7:53:10 PM

News Release Distributed 05/09/08

When asked “How does your garden grow?” students at a Baton Rouge elementary school have a plethora of plants to list.

LSU AgCenter Master Gardeners and Kids Hope volunteers have helped transform a once dull courtyard at University Terrace Elementary school into a flowering oasis. The garden has become a science project, a vocabulary lesson, a cultural experiment, a meeting room and a place to relax and enjoy nature.

Teacher and coach Tom Talley started the garden 10 years ago.

“Some nurseries in town donated some plants to me,” Talley said. “I wanted to start an herb garden and a butterfly, hummingbird garden. But I just kept planting.”

With the help of volunteers and students, the garden, which the school calls the International Garden, has grown. It’s brimming with native Louisiana plants, tropical plants, herbs and vegetables from all over the world.

“This garden is really a metaphor for what happens here every day, where teachers and administrators are working to plant seeds and grow student achievement and the garden symbolizes what they are doing,” said Judy Weaver, a member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Master Gardeners.

Weaver got involved with the garden two years ago when she moved from New Jersey to Baton Rouge and has been instrumental in getting volunteers and support for the garden.

“Gardeners are the nicest people,” she said. “The Master Gardener program is a great way to meet new people and get involved in the community.”

Some students play hopscotch, others play tag, but 4-H’ers at the school spend much of their time before classes begin for the day tending to the garden – weeding, planting and watering.

“We like to work in it, and sometimes we play in it just to have fun,” said Jasmine Jackson, a fifth-grader and the school’s 4-H president.

“I tell my friends that it is really fun to grow the plants,” said fifth-grader Monawar Chabayta. “It’s weird how they start small and then grow really big.”

University Terrace has a diverse student population. Chabayta’s family is from Lebanon, and students come from more than 35 different countries.

“Our plants are from all the different countries that are represented by the kids,” said Linda Daniel, principal at University Terrace Elementary. “So there is a connection with the students and their actual countries.”

Many teachers use the garden as an outdoor classroom. Dr. Paul Coreil, LSU AgCenter vice chancellor for extension, said the garden can be incorporated naturally into science lessons.

“There is no better way to teach elementary students about science and their environment than through a garden that the students plant and care for themselves,” he said.

The names of the many plants provide a unique way to present spelling and vocabulary lessons.

“The garden presents so many teachable moments,” Daniel said.

A Master Gardener and Kids Hope volunteer, Shirley Flake says the learning is contagious. She got involved with the Master Gardener program after she started volunteering in the garden.

“The students are so wonderful and so curious,” she said. “And the master gardener program is providing me with a wealth of information.”

Master gardeners around the state are involved in community service projects like this one.

“Partnering with schools to develop gardens gives students the opportunity to till the soil, see plants germinate and grow and finally harvest the fruits of their labor,” Coreil said. “This experience enhances the learning in the classroom.”

The Louisiana Master Gardener program is a service and educational activity offered by the LSU AgCenter. The program is designed to recruit and train volunteers to help meet the educational needs of home gardeners while providing an enjoyable and worthwhile service experience for volunteers. To learn more about the program visit www.lsuagcenter.com and click on lawn and garden.

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Contact: Paul Coreil at (225) 578-6083, or pcoreil@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Tobie Blanchard at (225) 578-5649, or tblanchard@agcenter.lsu.edu

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