Flowers, Students Both Blossom at Baton Rouge Elementary School

Linda Benedict  |  8/22/2008 2:00:24 AM

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, who has been a volunteer with the garden for two years.

"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. 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.

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." Tobie Blanchard

(This article was published in the summer 2008 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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