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Roots and Shoots program blossoming at elementary

By Staff | Sep 4, 2010

Julie Coumbo, left, encourages lettuce fans — also known as students in the Roots and Shoots program at Shepherdstown Elementary — as they work in the school’s garden. (Submitted photo)

SHEPHERDSTOWN – The Roots and Shoots program is blossoming at Shepherdstown Elementary School.

This is a program that successfully combines community volunteers, active parent involvement, teacher input, all 430 students and one busy principal.

Beautiful gardens and habitats around the schoolyard become classrooms where volunteers teach a variety of lessons, such as plant life cycles, effects of erosion, nutrition lessons, culinary lessons, including using spices from around the world and more.

Christy Kessler is this year’s Roots and Shoots coordinator.

“I love to be out in the garden. Kids love getting their hands in the dirt. It’s fun to share with kids,” she explained as her reasons for running the program.

Each grade has a different area that they work in. The curriculum matches their grade level and corresponds with their work area.

For kindergartners, it’s the ABC flower garden where asters, bee-balm, chrysanthemums and other flowers are grown.

First-graders are taught easy-to-learn plant-life cycle and cultivate six-foot tall sun flowers in their garden.

In the second-grade garden, vegetables are grown, which is a yummy way to learn about good nutrition.

Bug lessons, beneficial pests is the curriculum for the Grade Three Berry Patch.

Fourth-graders have a herb garden were they learn about medicinal, household cleaners and culinary uses of herbs.

And fifth-graders have a butterfly garden where they research and illustrate one of 30 native species.

In addition to teaching all those lessons and maintaining all those gardens, the team looks after several other aspects of the school grounds.

There is an erosion area that the children are observing. There is a song-bird thicket, where the children will be putting up bird houses.

A bridge made from recycled products, leads out into the wetlands. A working compost area makes a great science experiment.

They also maintain a fitness trail around the property linking all the gardens together.

One of the future ideas is a Green Science Room, made from green building material.

Many of the same dedicated Roots and Shoots volunteers also donate plants, compost and their valuable time and knowledge.

Several local businesses have offered donations or discounts, including Southern States, Potomac Farms, Potomac Mecklenberg Gardening Club and the Shepherdstown Farmers’ Market. Donations of “thyme” or “time” are always welcome.

Another fund raiser comes from selling student-created note cards. These are for sale at several local stores, such as Grapes ‘n Grains, Four Seasons Books and Potomac Farms.

Also, there is a plant sale at the school’s May Red Bud Festival.

Volunteers are crucial to the success of this program, now entering it’s fifth year. Volunteers can come with little or lots of experience.

Several master gardeners are on the team and several master “want-to-be’s” join them. Altogether, about 30 regular volunteers come to the school each spring and fall to nurture the students.

There are a good variety of jobs, like teaching, reading or pulling weeds.

To find a spot, contact Christy Kessler at 304-870-1234.