Nelson Middle School Learns in the Garden

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Nelson Middle School is throwing a garden party.

Installation of four raised garden beds began in August prior to the first day of school and the first plants were in the dirt August 31. The plant list for fall includes green beans, cucumbers, radish, carrots, lettuce, squash, beets, sugar snap peas and cabbage. Herbs such as basil, lavender and rosemary are also in the mix.

The formation of a student garden club and the school garden is under the supervision of seventh grade science teacher Sara Hill and PTA environmental chair Laura van Poppel, who also represents Collin County Master Gardeners. Former Nelson student Caleb Smith, an Independence High School student with Boy Scout Troop 8710, oversaw the construction of the flower beds by student and adult volunteers as part of his Eagle Scout project. Funds for the project were provided by Home Depot and Fiskars through the Orange Thumb Grant project and included $2,000 from Home Depot and $1,500 worth of Fiskars tools, according to Van Poppel. The plants were donated by Shades of Green nursery.

In addition to getting their hands dirty, Hill’s students will be gathering data on growth rates, crop yields and watching to see what mammals and insects take up residence or “invade the area,” Hill said. Differentiating good insects from bad is a lesson that began on day one as students found an assassin bug in the soil – a good guy for gardens.

Hill and van Poppel see another potential for the garden club – nurturing and growing relationships in a highly diverse area with many new families. “We are trying to build a community, build bridges,” Hill said. They hope families become interested in the garden and get to know each other.

Hill intends to use the garden as a site that students may use to participate in the school science fair. It will be a place for students whose families do not have resources for science fair participation and also a place to attract “the kids who don’t buy into science,” Hill said. Students can expand their interests in the garden – whether  through a science project, food or an art project for pressing flowers.

Many schools have installed environmental gardens over the years, but they often disappeared when a PTA member or teacher moved on. Hill is creating a sustainability plan, so any teacher coming after her can continue the curriculum.

Garden Club students will meet on Wednesdays and Thursdays to observe, water and weed but Hill stressed that school work must come first as club members develop green thumbs and sharp minds.

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