Garden teaches problem-solving, science, more
By Jessica Tuggle
VERO BEACH -- Children at Vero Beach Elementary School have been getting dirt under their nails, sunshine on their skins and exercising their brains with gardening.
The school's community and square-foot gardens were dedicated on April 8 after months of planting and cultivating their green spaces, thanks to grants from local nonprofits.
The students have also been hard at work in a nutrition kitchen built using grant money, and created an herbal vinegar to share with guests during the dedication, said Cynthia Falardeau, executive director of the Education Foundation.
Students at Vero Beach proudly showed off their tomatoes, celery, lettuce, herbs and other garden plants to members of The Education Foundation and Impact 100, two nonprofit groups that made the garden and nutrition projects possible.
Principal Ainsley Seeley, who happens to be a Vero Beach Elementary School alumna, said the gardens are a dream begun by her predecessor, Bonnie Swanson. The school has also begun a hydroponic garden that will be dedicated at a later date.
Principal Seeley promised to care for the gardens and make them a priority at the school, just as if the gardens were her own idea.
Paolo Oliveri, a fourth grader, showed guests the nasturtium plants he and other students planted. He plucked several of the neon orange blossoms and offered them to several people to taste.
"I think it's a little spicy. It tastes a little bit like radishes," said Allene Moorehead, a Title I worker for the school district.
Wendy Alexander, Vero Beach Elementary School art teacher and garden coordinator, said the garden is teaching children patience and problem-solving skills in a fun, hands-on manner.
Physical education Coach Patricia Marek is the wellness coordinator for the school. Using the nutrition kitchen and lab, the students use their harvested plants to create healthy dishes.
Recently, the students made pizzas from whole wheat dough, fresh herbs, tomatoes and other plants grown in the garden, she said.
"The best time for kids to learn is when they don't realize they're learning," Coach Marek said.
Parents can get in on the action by participating in wellness dinners at the school, usually held the first Thursday of the month, administration said.
Ms. Alexander has used the garden for a variety of projects and instruction as well, including using plants from the garden to dye Easter eggs.
Pat Donovan, president of the Education Foundation's board of directors, said she was proud of the student's dedication to the garden.
She said she hoped by having the gardening and nutrition program at the school, children would learn early to live more healthy lives, learn some sustainable living principles, and reconnect with family by building a garden in their own homes.
The Education Foundation of Indian River County delivered $230,000 in grants to local classrooms this past year, and has helped fund other gardening projects in the past, including those at Pelican Island and Treasure Coast elementary schools, Ms. Falardeau said.