Students utilize skills, learn about environment in STEM garden
The Champion. Dereck Smith. January 24, 2018.

Students at the Wadsworth Magnet School for High Achievers are getting more than a green thumb from their schoolwide STEM garden project.

Every student at the school, which serves fourth through sixth grade, spends time in the garden, using science, technology, engineering and math skills to grow a variety of produce.

The program began in 2016 under the direction of STEM lead coordinator and physical education teacher Jake Carlock. Carlock used items donated through a grant from the Captain Planet Foundation to start the project, which was originally one six-foot by six-foot pollinator garden with native Georgia plants, but expanded over the summer with five planter beds for herbs and vegetables to allow every student to spend at least 15-20 minutes in the garden.

“I try to spread everything out, so everyone can say they had a hand in it,” Carlock told The Champion.

“Everyone can say they planted something. I try to get as much involvement as possible.”
Through partnerships with the Captain Planet Foundation and Home Depot, the school receives donations of seeds and potted plants to grow a variety of produce such as sage, rosemary, basil, thyme, onions, tomatoes, strawberries, cabbages, kale, Swiss chard, red lettuce and turnips.

For 8 to 12-year-old students—many of whom Carlock said had never seen a garden or know where their food comes from—the process of growing vegetables can be enlightening, Carlock said.

“When we plant the beet seeds, it’s amazing for them to see how such a small seed can grow into something that tall,” he said.

The garden serves to teach many lessons within the STEM framework, but it teaches other lessons as well, according to Carlock.

Carlock said when students plant something, they take ownership of it. They learn how to properly interact with environment, how to take care of it and how to coexist within it.

Carlock said he also uses the health component of his physical education certification to teach the students about nutritional values of the produce.

While the garden has grown from one small plot to six beds in one year, Carlock said it won’t stop growing. By next year, he said he hopes to add an aquaponics system, which will use live fish to fertilize the garden while the garden provides the fish with nutrients.

He also said he hopes to add more planter beds in the future, so the program can partner with a homeless shelter or charity and donate the food it produces for a good cause.

But the stated goal of the project is learning, and Carlock said he believes the students of Wadsworth Magnet will carry the lessons they learn in the garden for the rest of their lives.

“We’re teaching tomorrow’s future—tomorrow’s engineers, tomorrow’s doctors, tomorrow’s politicians, environmental specialists, even tomorrow’s teachers,” he said. “If we can start with something small, and they can take that seed and keep it with them over a lifetime of learning, there’s no way to tell the impact or how it might account for change.”

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