Bluffton Elementary relaunched the school’s Garden Based Learning (GBL) program this past school year under the direction of Laura VanHorn, 2nd grade teacher, along with grant money awarded by The Foundation for Educational Excellence through a donation from The Bargain Box. All students at the school, from the youngest to the oldest, got their hands dirty creating various garden based projects and learned something in the process!
Preschool students had the opportunity to grow herbs in their classroom. Observing the growing process up close and personal. Students in the first grade planted pumpkins - starting first in their classroom and then transplanting the plants outside to a garden box. Second grade planted spinach in seed trays in their classroom and learned the hard way that not everything you plant will flourish!
The entire school had the opportunity to participate in a garden workday where existing garden beds were repaired and new beds were built. The existing beds were planted with native pollinators and the new beds are now hosting a crop of sweet potato seedlings. As part of this project, the school also launched the Wildcat Compost Zone.
With the grant money, a Subpod was purchased and installed in the garden beds. A Subpod is an in-ground compost system and worm farm. It was installed as part of the garden workday with kids (along with adult supervision) doing the assembly and installation. The next step in the composting process is to add compost and worms, a process which takes several weeks to establish and needs to have moderate temperatures in order to be successful. Since the garden workday occurred at the end of April, the plan is to delay the purchasing of the worms and begin composting in the Fall of 2022.
One of the fifth grade classes, who spent part of last year engaged in ecological studies, will take over the compost project for the 2022-23 school year. Going forward, the scale purchased will be used to weigh the amount of produce scraps that will be diverted from the landfill as well as weigh the compost taken out of the bin to use in the gardens.
In addition to the Subpod, a “Worm Condo” was also installed. This is a PVC pipe with holes drilled into it. This example will serve as a “DIY” model, as compared to the more involved Subpod, and will be something the students can hopefully put in their gardens or flower boxes at home.
In addition to the Subpod, three vermicomposting bins were purchased for use in studying ecosystems and the process of composting in individual classrooms.
In the upcoming school year, after learning about the worms and the vermicomposting bin, the second graders will be charged with leading the Pre-K class with their first lessons and interactions with the worms.
According to VanHorn, the goal of increasing interest in STEM and science related activities at Bluffton Elementary was definitely accomplished through this project. Students engaged with classroom activities and were very interested in learning more about the Subpod in the garden. The students’ curiosity was high and they were dedicated to their tasks. Even during recess, many students were observed daily asking to water the garden beds, giving up playtime to be garden caretakers!
“My students had a great deal of interest in the vermicomposting bin in our class,” said VanHorn. “They also demonstrated knowledge about composting, learned about the way the bin serves as an ecosystem for the worms, and learned how to take care of the bin and the worms by monitoring the amount of produce being composted.”
The valuable lessons the students learned as well as the awareness raised about the benefits of composting for our environment will prove to positively impact Bluffton Elementary and our community for years to come. The Foundation is grateful to The Bargain Box for its monetary support that helped make this project happen.
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