Education

Bellefonte Area uses gardens as ‘learning tool’

Lydia Johnson, 8, takes a turn watering the garden where her and her second grade classmates are growing sugar peas outside of Benner Elementary on Thursday.
Lydia Johnson, 8, takes a turn watering the garden where her and her second grade classmates are growing sugar peas outside of Benner Elementary on Thursday. adrey@centredaily.com

Just about every school day since April 22, Lata Anantheswaran’s second-grade class has gone outside to water a garden students helped create at Benner Elementary School.

Students planted sugar snap peas, which are just starting to pop out of the dirt.

“It needs a lot of water and sun and people to take care of the garden,” Brody Pritts, 7, said Thursday morning.

Teachers and administrators said the garden, the school’s first, was made possible, not just by students and staff, but the community as a whole, including business owners and students’ parents.

$500 grand received from Tractor Supply Co.

The school received a $500 grant from Tractor Supply Co., Anantheswaran said, while other local businesses donated goods to help turn the garden into a reality. Benner Township farmer Janet Robinson also met with school members to give tips about gardening, and high school students from teacher Myken Poorman’s agriculture program helped set up the garden’s foundation.

Volunteers and others served by the school spent a Saturday last month constructing the garden by raising the beds, installing a fence and adding top soil. Each grade level at the school will share a bed and grow a different type of produce.

Anantheswaran said the end-of-year goal is to have enough produce to make a salad.

Benner Elementary’s garden is among others in the Bellefonte Area School District that aim to be sustainable and educational.

That’s exactly the goal — to make sure it’s a learning tool when we discuss this in science classes and that we can use it for more than just one year

Lata Anantheswaran, Benner Township Elementary School second-grade teacher

“That’s exactly the goal — to make sure it’s a learning tool when we discuss this in science class and that we can use it for more than just one year,” Anantheswaran said.

At Bellefonte Area Middle School, two seventh-grade science teachers — Jill Crisan and Allison D’Ambrosia — with help from their students, turned two school courtyards into outdoor classroom space, which D’Ambrosia called a “living laboratory.”

The gardens were made possible by a grant the district received in 2015. About a year later, construction began to transform the outdoor space.

D’Ambrosia said teachers and students brainstormed together to determine the use of the courtyard.

Now complete, the gardens primarily include native pollinators with milkweeds, asters, mint, black-eyed Susans and more.

“We have looked at the different leaves under a microscope, (learned) about plant cells, as well as watched the plants grow each year,” D’Ambrosia said. “We also observe and monitor what types of insects and pollinators we are attracting, as well as the birds coming to the bird feeders.”

Future plans include incorporating a hydroponic garden with some herbs, adding umbrellas and installing a whiteboard or chalk board to help facilitate more teaching, D’Ambrosia said.

Some kids don’t have gardens at home or say they don’t have interest, but then can watch the plants grow here or invest in designing a new system or improve the current system and suddenly plants are less boring and have a story behind them

Allison D’Ambrosia, BAMS seventh-grade science teacher

“Some kids don’t have gardens at home or say they don’t have interest, but then can watch the plants grow here or invest in designing a new system or improve the current system and suddenly plants are less boring and have a story behind them,” D’Ambrosia said.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

  Comments