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School students get outdoor education


GARDEN--Students at Coronado-Escobar Elementary in San Antonio's Edgewood ISD learn to plant and tend a vegetable garden with the assistance of teachers, Master Gardeners, 4-H club members and personnel from the Texas AgriLife Extension Service office in Bexar County. (Texas AgriLife Extension Service photo.)

The Edgewood Independent School District and the Texas AgriLife Extension Service joined forces to build a new student garden plot and recondition existing garden plots on the grounds of Coronado-Escobar Elementary, 5622 W. Durango in San Antonio.

About 90 second-, third- and fifth-grade students participated in the garden build and educational activities presented by AgriLife Extension in coordination with school administrators and the Edgewood ISD.

"The garden area at the school helps the students learn about responsibility and commitment," said Roy Ramos, vice principal of Coronado-Escobar Elementary. "The kids also learn about earth science and how to plant and grow their own vegetables. They're very proud of them and like to bring their parents to the vegetable garden to show them what they've grown."

He added the program also teaches students patience and the value of working diligently toward a goal.

Members of the Bexar County Master Gardeners and local 4-H clubs administered by the local AgriLife Extension office, along with county Extension personnel, provided materials and manpower for the project, along with hands-on educational demonstrations for the students.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, in whose district the school is located, said the school garden project was "an excellent example of schools and other organizations working together to benefit young people and their community." A legislative aide to Castro, Bianca Briseno, attended the garden build on his behalf.

Students helped prepare the soil for a newly constructed 4 foot by 8 foot raised garden and helped re-establish existing plots. Under adult guidance, they planted broccoli, cabbage, radish, cauliflower and other vegetable seedlings. Students also were given instruction on the importance of vegetables in their daily diet, shown actual garden-grown vegetables and given fresh vegetables for snacks.

"We wanted the students to know how good fresh vegetables taste and how good they are for them," said Connie Sheppard, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension agent for family and consumer sciences for Bexar County. "Vegetables are a vital part of the daily diet and are one way to improve health and help avoid childhood overweight issues."

Participating students enjoyed planting, fertilizing and watering their new garden area.

"My grandmother has a vegetable garden and I like helping her," said Felicity Berlanga, a second-grader who participated in the build and educational activities. "She grows tomatoes and other vegetables in her garden, and now I'm learning how to grow them too."

The new garden will serve as an "outdoor classroom" where the students can learn about agriculture, horticulture and other subjects while promoting community involvement, said Brady Yecker, AgriLife Extension youth gardens coordinator.

Yecker said helping with the elementary school's garden area was part of community education and outreach activities through the Bexar County Youth Gardens Program of AgriLife Extension. He said the program helps supplement efforts to improve Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills scores by using gardens as an alternative setting to the classroom.

"It also assists teachers and students in meeting mandatory Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills objectives through its use of award-winning AgriLife Extension Junior Master Gardener curricula," he said.

Joe, Susan and Margie Noonan, all members of the Bexar County Master Gardener program, were among those providing instruction to students during the garden build.

"For a lot of kids, mowing the lawn is the closest they get to horticulture," said Joe Noonan. "Many don't realize where vegetables come from and that they can grow them. It's enjoyable to show them how much fun gardening can be and to get them involved in an activity where they can go outdoors and get some fresh air and exercise while doing something productive."

Research has shown gardening is an effective way to help children gain a respect for nature and the environment, learn about nutrition and improved food choices, develop interpersonal skills and enhance learning through real-life experience, Yecker added.

"Youth gardening helps young people become well-rounded, socially aware and productive members of their communities," he said. "We're glad the Edgewood ISD and Coronado-Escobar Elementary allowed us to come in and join them in this important school garden education effort."

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