Garden plants seeds of civic understanding in students’ minds
Instead of learning about biology and geology by flipping through a text book, sixth-grade students at Glenwood Elementary learned from the world’s most respected natural expert: Mother Nature. Last semester, students in the Placement for Educationally Advanced Kids program traded plaster walls for mother nature as part of a sixth-grade habitat project.The students designed and planted a garden behind Glenwood Springs Middle School.”It’s a time for them where they don’t have to follow what everyone else is doing,” said Megan Dean, PEAK teacher. “They can go beyond what they know and expand their knowledge.”Students started the project in the classroom where they learned about trees, plants and Colorado’s ecosystems.Dean brought in regional experts to teach students about their natural surroundings, a master gardener to test soil and a geologist to explain the history and geology of the area.
After sitting in the classroom and learning about plants, soil and geology, the students tested their knowledge by identifying trees and shrubs along Grizzly Creek.”It helped them notice the different composition of our environment instead of seeing just trees and rocks,” Dean said.Things got a little rocky, pardon the pun, when Dean brought students back into the classroom and asked them to decide which plants to put in the garden.With a $500 budget, students had limited options with how much they could put in the garden.”All of them had really strong ideas about what they wanted,” Dean said. “It was really interesting to watch.”Utilizing their powers of persuasion, the students debated with one another until they decided the only way to reach a conclusion would be to vote.”They got to learn how government works and why it takes so long for the government to make decisions,” Dean said.
Carley Arensman, 12, of Glenwood, remembers the debate well but also remembers what she learned from it.”I’m really glad we learned to compromise,” said Arensman. “It’s a very important skill to have and none of us got everything we wanted.”Arensman and a few of her friends who are also in the PEAK program, plan to build a waterfall in the garden.After the vote, students created a structural plan and got to work.Divided into two sections, the 22-person class dug, tilled, picked weeds and planted trees and flowers for two hours a week.”I thought it was good that we overplanned and didn’t run out of stuff to do,” Arensman said.Even though it’s summer, Dean tends to the garden so her incoming sixth-grade class can continue to make improvements.
Although other teachers warned Dean about garden vandals – a previous garden in the same place was vandalized – no one has touched the garden, Dean said.”We had a ground-breaking ceremony and invited the whole school,” Dean said. “Lots of kids outside of the class helped with the garden which I think, gave them a real sense of ownership.”Each student placed a quote in the garden of his or her choice.The quotes are as diverse as the lessons students learned while creating the garden. “So many things came out of it that had nothing to do with science or outdoor activities,” Dean said. “One student gave feedback about the project and said it made her think more about life and her actions.”Contact Ivy Vogel: 945-8515, ext. firstname.lastname@example.org
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