Terril D. Faul, Maki, Kenneth W., Coolman, Denise
They’re also learning math and science skills that will help them when they take standardized tests – thanks to the help of an LSU AgCenter horticulturist.
But they aren’t alone, since LSU AgCenter agents across Louisiana are involved with projects to help students learn valuable skills through experience.
In the case of Robinson Elementary, Ken Maki, an LSU AgCenter horticulturist in Ouachita Parish, helped about 160 students in the 5th and 6th grades learn how to plant and maintain a flower garden at the school. He was asked for assistance by Shirley Brown, the school librarian, after she received a grant that allowed her to buy flowers for the school.
"I read Mr. Maki’s column in The News-Star every week," Brown said. "We got about 300 bulbs and needed some assistance learning how to plant them. I knew Mr. Maki was an expert in the field, so I called him."
Brown said the students had a lot of research to do before they put in the first bulbs or plants.
"When I told them we had some bulbs to plant, they wanted to know why we were going to plant light bulbs," Brown said. "They didn’t know anything about (flower) bulbs or planting or anything to do with a garden. So I let them look at books and on the Internet in the library."
Brown said the students learned a little about gardening that way, but the real experience came through working on the project.
"They learned a little before Mr. Maki spoke to them," she said. "Reading about planting something in a book is one thing, but then getting out and getting dirty doing it is another. They really enjoyed it."
Before the students got "dirty" planting the bulbs, they had an assembly where Maki talked to them about how to plant bulbs. Maki said the experience is something they can use throughout their lives.
"One of the things I like is they can use what they’ve learned now later in life to plant flowers, vegetables and other plants," Maki said. "Some of the students had never planted anything before, and this project allowed them to learn first-hand what it’s like to plant something. It makes a difference when students get hands-on experience."
A stipulation of the grant was that whatever project was done, it had to be something that could tie in with the students’ lessons. This project did just that.
"We used math lessons for measuring the rows and boundaries of the garden," Brown said. "The students had the opportunity to see math skills used outside the classroom. We also used science lessons to talk about the need for nutrients, water and sun so the flowers can grow. And they used reading and research skills to look up information needed to plant the bulbs and maintain the garden. It’s been a real useful learning experience."
Robyn Francois-Gaspard, a 6th grade science teacher at the school, said the gardening lesson will prove valuable to the students.
"They are practicing skills they need to know to take the Iowa test," she said. "They are learning valuable math skills, as well as science skills, that they will be tested on as part of the Iowa test."
Students all over Louisiana can benefit from materials and lessons pertaining to standardized tests such as the Iowa and LEAP tests that are available from the LSU AgCenter. The LSU AgCenter’s 4-H youth development program has CDs and portable displays available to help teachers teach LEAP benchmark lessons.
In addition to those materials designed for teachers to use in their classrooms, LSU AgCenter 4-H agents also use the material during 4-H meetings across Louisiana as part of the 4-H enrichment program.
"All of our agents are required to identify the benchmarks of LEAP for programs that will be presented in 4-H," said Terril Faul, director of the LSU AgCenter’s 4-H youth development program.
Teachers interested in using these materials can contact their parish LSU AgCenter office or call the state 4-H office at (225) 578-2196. They are available in printed and digital formats for teachers to copy and use in their classrooms.
Aside from learning skills needed to pass state tests, the students at Robinson Elementary School also are having fun with their flower garden.
Thirteen-year-old Dmarvia Ignont said helping in the school garden is the first time he’s ever worked in a garden.
"I live in town (Monroe), and I’ve never planted anything before," Ignont said. "It was fun."
This may not be the last flower garden at the school. Brown said she plans to help students grow something during the summer and the 2004-2005 school year.
"These flowers add beauty to the school grounds,’ Brown said. "The students gain pride and self-esteem knowing they did their part to improve the look of the school grounds. It’s a win-win situation."