May 3, 2023 at 5:29 p.m.

Learning about the environment

Learning about the environment
Learning about the environment

By Ben Sonnek- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

SCES third grade class engaged in plant to food cycle  

Displays line the walls at Sauk Centre Elementary School, and the third graders’ piece, a scene of sea turtles, is made out of recycled materials – painted newspapers, cardboard and egg cartons.

This diorama is only one of the environmentally-focused initiatives the third grade class has been undertaking throughout the year, and it will soon culminate in a plant sale from 3 to 3:30 p.m., Monday, May 8, and from 7:45 to 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, May 9. 

“Our goal is to earn enough money to buy some supplies we need for the garden,” said Andelee Leukam, third grade teacher. “If we make enough, we’re hoping to buy an apple tree.”

The teachers also hope students will take their love of gardening home with them when school is out.

“Some of the kids need that different outlet, something they can do as a family or transferring the skills they’ve learned to home,” said Lindsey Kuefler, third grade teacher. “At the beginning of the school year, they made an expert garden book, and it was cool to see the different topics they were able to come up with. Not all of them were the same, so we tied that into their nonfiction writing.”

The environmental program has been spearheaded by the third grade teachers this year, including Leukam, Kuefler, Allison Beach and Abby Primus. It kicked off at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year with a harvest of the garden the 2021-22 third graders planted before their school year ended. This year’s third grade class decided to take the produce and make it into salsa.

“We went down to the high school, and they helped out in the (Family And Consumer Science) room, cutting and helping the third graders with the recipe,” Leukam said. “The kids wrote the recipe and everything, and we shared it with each grade level, all of the teachers, and then we sent it to the superintendent and principals. We sent a bunch (of salsa) to fourth grade because they were the ones who started the garden.”

While the recipe did not use all of the garden’s produce, the class did not throw the leftovers away and composted them instead. That led to a learning opportunity when it came to school lunches and how the food waste from that meal could be naturally recycled as compost as well. Third grade now has three tumbler compost bins.

“The kids have continued adding to them,” Leukam said. “They understand what food waste is now, and that’s extremely important.”

The teachers have been instructing their students with project-based learning with this program, presenting the third graders with a topic problem or question and letting them research and find a solution. One of those recent topics was endangered species.

“We broke it down into the five different categories of animals, and then we talked about the things they can’t adapt to,” Leukam said. “That led us to researching why they are endangered, so the kids chose a species and then went and did the research to find out why that specific one was endangered.”

For April 22, Earth Day, the class went outside to pick up trash around the schoolyard. Each classroom had a designated area, and with their gardening gloves and plastic bags, they collected trash that ended up on the grounds and caught in the fences.

Beyond Earth Day, Leukam has noticed some of the students going out at recess and picking up litter if they find it.

“That’s something they’re choosing to do,” Leukam said. “There’s a student in (Beach’s) class who walks home with a plastic bag so she can pick up trash along her walk on the way home.”

Entering the spring months, the class has continued with tree planting along with replanting the garden. To incorporate the second graders into the program – as they will be involved next year as third graders themselves – they had them help with the garden planting and seed starting. A Stearns County Master Gardener also came in to show how to take care of the plants.

 Because third grade has so many plants on hand this year, they decided to sell them to raise money for the program.

“It’s cool because one of the standards in third grade is being able to make change up to a dollar,” Leukam said. “They’re going to experience making and exchanging money.”

The fourth graders have been helping market the event, designing a poster to send to other classrooms.

The plants available at the sale’s farm stand will include tomatoes, marigolds, zinnias, varieties of sweet and hot peppers, watermelon and cantaloupe. The second grade’s plants will be for sale, while the third graders get to choose if they want to keep their plants or sell them.

“We let the kids decide what they wanted to plant,” Leukam said. “There are a lot of tomatoes in one classroom, … and there are a lot of watermelon in (another) class.”

For their last month of the school year, the class plans to take a field trip to the city compost site, shoveling some to bring back to their school garden.

As for the program overall, the teachers have noticed their students becoming more aware of the overall process of where their food comes from beyond the store, as well as the cycle of plants to food to fertilizer.

“There has been a high level of interest and investment in it,” Beach said. “It’s something they’re all engaged with, and it affects all of them.”


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