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PHHI Extension and Lowe’s Heroes install grant-awarded school garden

CONCORD- When Pitts School Road Elementary students go back to school next week, they will be surprised by a colorful, new garden set up to teach them lessons across all subjects.

The school was buzzing with activity last week as volunteers from Lowe’s Heroes and Metrolina Greenhouses gathered in the courtyard area to create a pollinator garden, a weather station, raised beds and a root observation box while teachers strapped on their safety glasses and grabbed drills to build eight 4-ft x 12-ft raised garden beds.

All of this began when first-grade teacher Erika Currin assembled a nine-person garden team committed to enhancing students’ learning experience through the addition of a school garden. The group submitted a grant application to the N.C. State Extensions’ Plants for Human Health Institute at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis, and was selected for the project because of its comprehensive garden plan.

“N.C. State sent out letters to all school administrators throughout Cabarrus County and if they wanted to be considered for this project they had to send in a plan. Pitts School Road had the best plan, the most comprehensive plan with long-term sustainability,” Billy Carol, store manager of the Lowe’s Home Improvement in Concord, said. “They had the best plan as to how teachers were going to use the classroom spaces.”

So representatives from the institute and Lowe’s Heroes teamed up to make the garden a reality.

Lowe’s Heroes is a company-wide volunteer initiative that offers Lowe’s employees the opportunity to work on a project in their own neighborhood, helping to make their communities better places to live, work and play.

“Every store in our county is offered the opportunity to donate time and money, and help a local organization. This is the second year we’ve helped with a project like this,” Carol said. “We’ve got about 20 people out here today. We are partnering with N.C. State to come out and get this garden installed.”

While Metrolina Greenhouses donated the flowers for the pollinator garden, Lowe’s donated almost everything else including wood for the planter boxes, PVC pipe, children’s gardening tools as well as a shed to store them.

Lowe’s volunteers also built the weather station and elevated gardens so students can watch the roots of vegetables grow.

“They are going to have a whole new space out here,” Carol said.

But volunteers didn’t do all of the work. Teachers from Pitts School Road and other schools across the county helped to build the wooden beds and put them in place. Vernon said this way, teachers from the other schools could go back and build their own.

“They tend to feel very confident after doing that. They also take a lot of pride in the fact they assembled that,” Doug Vernon, of Plants for Human Health Institute, said. “We went over how you do that with young kids. We will have first-graders using drills and I think that’s great.”

After building the beds, Vernon and N.C. State STEM educator Amy Bowman facilitated a discussion on the importance of having a garden, creating a garden plan and how the garden can be used across the curriculum.

Bowman said the garden can be used to teach math, social studies, science and even language arts.

“We created lessons that go with grade level standards so they can use them in the garden,” she said.

Plant life cycles, relative position, measurement skills, graphing skills and writing are all things that can be illustrated in the garden, according to Bowman.

“In writing you need to sequence things, there’s a logical flow. So you can look at how that ties into the garden,” Bowman said. “One of the lessons is the things that happen underground and the things we don’t see. So you can tie that to an author. We see the finished book product but you can talk about what went into that; the brainstorming, pre-writing and can relate that to things we see happening in the garden underground.”

They also discussed ways to make the garden sustainable and outside resources that are available to help.

“The idea is to have the whole school involved not just a few teachers,” Vernon said. “It will be an ongoing thing, not just this year but for years to come.”

And Currin is ready to start working with her students when school starts next week.

“I think it’s going to be a learning experience they are going to carry with them, just skills they are learning they can use as they grow,” she said.

Written by Jacqueline E. Kidd. Originally published in Independent Tribune.
Related article: Pitts School Road cuts ribbon on garden