April 13, 2010

(VIDEO LINK) A group of excited and energetic fifth-graders, called the Green Team at Williams Wells Brown Elementary School in Lexington, planted the seeds for what they hope will be a bountiful harvest of fresh greens and other vegetables in just a few short months.

"I think anytime children have the opportunity to learn where their food comes from, have the opportunity to see a plant emerge from the ground and turn into something they can actually put on their plate and eat, it teaches them a great deal," said Leslie Calk, the school's family resource director and Green Team leader.

The garden is just one of the projects the students are undertaking as part of the Kentucky Green and Healthy Schools program.

Kentucky Green and Healthy Schools is funded by the Kentucky Environmental Education Council and the Kentucky Department of Education. Carolyn Gilles with the Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and Environment in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture is the grant coordinator for Fayette and surrounding counties.

The goal of the program is to encourage students, parents and teachers to take stock of their school and determine improvements that will help students be healthier and make the school more environmentally friendly and energy efficient.

William Wells Brown Elementary is just one of 115 Kentucky schools participating in this project. The program is open to all public and private K-12 schools in the state.

"One very unique aspect to the program is that the projects are custom to the school," Gilles said. "Some schools may not have the space to grow a garden, so they'll do another project that's more relevant for them."

Along with the vegetable garden, other Green Team members at William Wells Brown Elementary have planted a tulip garden, started a campaign to keep their school grounds free of litter, added plants to the school's interior, repotted existing interior plants and learned how to recycle much of the school's trash rather than sending it to a landfill. In addition, the students will participate in a community garden event May 1.

"We know when you engage all the senses in learning, children learn faster and retain more," Calk said. "So it's just an opportunity for them to get out, get their hands dirty, get in the soil, watch plants grow and hopefully reap the harvest and enjoy a salad."

Fifth-graders and Green Team members Taya Wethington and Jamikia Harrell both enjoy participating in the program and planting the garden.

"What I enjoy about this project is we get to see how it feels to be able to plant, and we get to talk about what it's going to be, and when it gets grown, we're going to be able to eat our own salad," Wethington said.

 "When I first started, I thought it was cool because you get to do fun activities, get to plant things like the gardens and you get to talk to your friends and learn about the world," Harrell said.