Thursday, April 17, 2014 · 5:49 a.m.
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The new community gardens at CGLA are set to bring together students and subjects in a hands-on learning experience. (Photo: Staff)

Who knew a science lesson could lead to a lesson in art appreciation or the formation of a garden club?

The new community garden at the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy is proving to be fertile ground for educational connections between engineering and biology, cooking and community service, and art appreciation and physics.

Last week, 65 sixth-graders and science teacher Phoebe Mount planned, built and beautified four raised garden beds with hay bale borders on a plot of land next to the school that was once a playground. 

“We want to cultivate an attitude of exploration and experimentation and giving and sensitivity [at CGLA],” Mount said. “As I’ve asked questions and watched the girls work this week, I’ve really just seen that emerge in my sixth-graders.”

More than a just a garden
Mount and her father, gardener and designer Andrew Smith, headed up the project through Mount’s science classes. 

Students decorated the wooden braces along the sides of the hay bales. (Photo: Staff)

The idea developed from what the two saw as an opportunity to pack several educational themes into one initiative to put the school’s focus on interdisciplinary learning into practice. The group of 65 sixth-graders could establish a permanent fixture of the school’s community that would grow through each grade’s and each student’s contributions to it.

“When I got to my unit on engineering design, it all sort of fell into place,” Mount said. “This is not just building gardens. This was an art project and teaching the girls about how important it is to plan and build models and prototypes.” 

The classes began last Monday with lessons in testing soil samples for their pH levels. They moved into math in learning how to measure volume to gauge how much soil to use in the four, 30-square-foot garden beds. 

The students built Styrofoam models of the beds and filled the prototypes with pinto beans. When the beans broke through the models’ walls, Mount was able to explain the physics of the beans’ force in breaking through the barrier and challenge the girls to invent a solution for the problem of stabilizing the walls.

They came up with the idea of braces. The students used Popsicle sticks in the classroom and, in translating the solution to plans for the actual garden beds, settled on attaching wooden stakes to the hay bales.

That addition led Mount’s classes to the question of how to make the component of the design as attractive as it was functional. The students decided to paint the stakes with pictures of vegetables and fruits, which, in turn, allowed Mount to investigate the subject of art appreciation and evaluation. 

In total, the basic idea of creating a community garden, which Mount hopes will become a center for the school, blossomed into an avenue through which students could extract enormous and layered education value.

“I learned how important plants and vegetables are, the bugs and the chemicals that can get on them, and the natural things you can do instead of putting pesticides on them,” sixth-grader Gabby Young said.

Her classmate, Faith Frazier, reported that she learned more about being an engineer and the planning stages, complete with prototypes that are necessary to reach the final product.

Teachers and students gathered over cookies and hot chocolate to unveil the gardens last Friday. (Photo: Staff)

Reaping what you sow
Mount explained that the sixth-graders are going to wait until after the last freeze to plant in the garden beds. 

Students will first nurture seedlings in her classroom and then transplant the vegetables, herbs and fruits to the soil. The students are also now aware of the best methods of plotting out a garden, with the taller plants situated so as not to overshadow the smaller plants, based on the beds’ sunshine exposure.

“After the harvest, we might cook [the vegetables and fruits] and make recipes,” Yhara Mendoza, one of the sixth-graders, said.

Mount is looking into the possibility of starting a garden club to maintain the four beds and continue the learning process with adventures in the kitchen and canning the produce. Members of the club would also help her care for the garden over the summer.

The CGLA seniors are also making plans to use the garden as ground zero for community service projects. 

“There are endless opportunities for everyone in this school to use these gardens,” Mount said. “I’m just really excited to see what they come up with to do with what we have created."

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