Junior Master Gardeners
Host Paul James and horticulturist Dotty Woodson discuss a curriculum that cultivates the next generation of fertile minds.
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Who says you have to be grown up to be a master gardener?
Students at Morningside Elementary School in the heart of Fort Worth are growing a lot more than just plants. As Junior Master Gardeners, they haven't completed hours of horticultural community service, but the kids do contribute actively to their school's thriving garden. Originally developed in Texas, the Junior Master Gardener program is designed to apply classroom concepts to the hands-on setting of the garden.
"When you plant a little seed in a cup in the classroom and you see the seed grow, that's one thing," says horticulturist Dotty Woodson. "But when you plant a seed in the garden and you actually eat the broccoli or the green bean, or the lettuce, your self-esteem soars."
As a long-time horticulturist, Woodson is one of the countless volunteers who lend their expertise to this Junior Master Gardener project. She's helping kids incorporate classroom lessons such as math, science, reading and ecology into today's lesson. The kids will have to figure out things--like how much bird seed and string they'll need for their homemade bird feeders, which birds will eat the seeds and what happens to the seeds that drop on the ground.
Sure it may look like fun and games, but research shows that kids who complete the program cultivate a sense of accomplishment that grows well beyond the garden gates. Andrea, a fifth grader, says, "I'm proud of the garden because everybody has taken the time out to come and help make it." According to Woodson, the garden teaches important life lessons such as responsibility, leadership skills and camaraderie. Sunflower seeds that were grown by last year's students are handed down to this year's kids for their sneaker planters.
Taking steps to contribute to the well being of others is an important component of the Junior Master Gardener program. The kids, teachers and volunteers have an intricate understanding of why it takes a whole community to raise a garden. "A garden like this could not happen without the community being involved," says Woodson. "We have master gardeners, the sheriff's department, all the teachers and teachers' assistants, parents--we have everyone in the community involved."
Better behavior is another one of the undeniable by products of being a Junior Master Gardener. "In an outdoor setting like this, children have the chance to relax, learn, voice their opinion, and they have a chance to grow with the flowers," says Woodson. Classroom activities are lots of fun, too. It's where the building blocks are reinforced and the big picture takes root. Armed with education in both technical and tangible forms, the odds of success are great. "We're not just planting seeds in the ground, we're planting seeds in the students, seeds for our future," says Woodson.
"I learn about plants and how to grow them and how to be a gardener when I grow up," says Katriel, a fifth grader. Fourth grader Julien says, "We like to get messy and plant stuff."
By planting respect for nature early in such fertile minds, the program is cultivating smarter, healthier and compassionate community-minded people for the future. Junior Master Gardener programs aren't limited to Texas. In fact, the seeds of hope have spread to communities all across the country. And the program keeps on giving: schools often donate part of their harvest to food banks and homeless shelters. There's now a second level of Junior Master Gardener programming, aimed at sixth- to eighth graders.
To find out if there are Junior Master Gardener programs in your area, call your local county extension office.
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