Due to an “enormous response from students and parents,” Chesnut Charter Elementary School has incorporated its unique after-school ecology club into the science curriculum for kindergarten students, said Principal Veronica Williams.
The club, which was the idea of parent Angela Renals, allows students to participate in hands-on experiences with gardening, conservation, wildlife education and recycling.
The club’s popularity inspired teachers at the school to make the activities part of the lesson plan for every kindergarten student.
As a result, instead of staying after school for a monthly meeting, kindergarteners now experience ecology and farm-to-school fundamentals built into their daily science curriculum.
Williams said the lessons appeal to students because they are hands-on and fun.
“The children are learning to harvest various herbs, vegetables and fruits, they’re collecting water in rain barrels and building habitats for animals,” she said.
Other lesson plans include earthworms and how they help soil and plants; weather and how it affects farming; composting and how bugs can help plants; and rocks and minerals through creating a rock garden.
Most of the instruction occurs outside and goes on throughout the school year.
Williams said the success of the program is an ongoing collaborative effort between parents and teachers.
“Everyone works together to provide information for the students to learn and in the summer, parent volunteers tend the garden,” she said.
Many of the lessons taken from the ecology club also apply to the school’s wellness program, which helps students learn about healthy eating habits.
“I’ve had parents tell me their child has never liked vegetables, but after these kids get involved and see how the food grows, they’re invested in the process and like it,” said kindergarten teacher and master gardener Ginna Hobgood.
Although the ecology club has only been incorporated into the kindergarten science curriculum thus far, Hobgood said the interest of students from other grade levels may lead to its expansion.
“Students really respond to getting outside and getting involved with the lesson instead of just being lectured to in a classroom,” she said. “I want to instill a love of being interactive with learning, which is what this program provides.”