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Parkside Elementary students learn from outdoors

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The courtyard at Parkside Elementary is in bloom and ready for harvest — a stark change from just five years ago.

Even when the area was overrun by weeds, parent Brigid Jarnigan saw potential and worked patiently to clean it up.

Students and teachers since then have used the garden space as a science lab and culinary experiment.

“We all sort of started taking ownership,” third-grade teacher Sandy Watts said.

Watts said she has always had a green thumb and believes the outdoors project introduces students to science in a fun and hands-on way.

She maintains the grounds with fellow teachers Candy Carr, Ann Ruble and Anita Grider and their students, turning the work into a learning experience.

“What better way to get kids to eat healthy than to study it, plant it, take care of it and harvest it?” Watts said.

Every spring, after the last frost, the teachers take their students into the courtyard and put them to work weeding and planting seeds and flowers.

Lillie Tickel is a fifth-grader at the school who has helped out with the garden for several years.

“It’s fun being able to interact with the school outside,” she said. “It’s not just learning. It’s physical work instead of mental work.”

She also is part of a group of neighborhood children who help Watts with the garden during the summer months when school is out.

“I’ve learned that weeds are evil and how to plant and how much work it takes,” she said. “It takes a lot of responsibility to take care of your garden, and it’s hard to remember that, especially when you’re a kid.”

But Watts said it’s an important lesson for children, especially considering the future food outlook. Some research shows global warming could threaten the world’s food supply, causing food prices to spike.

She said gardening can be a cheaper alternative to grocery stores.

“They can learn to grow nutritional meals in their own backyard,” Watts said.

The students might learn how to grow the vegetables, but they will not always learn to like the vegetables.

Pickel said she has tried most of what’s been grown in the garden, but she still doesn’t like vegetables — except for “really sweet peppers.”

And that is all Watts asks of her students: To give the vegetables a chance.

She and other teachers encourage that by organizing a Courtyard Feast where students use simple recipes to prepare dishes including tossed salads.

Watts hopes to take her current students out to the garden as soon as this week to help with weeding and harvesting anything that might be ready.

“This project is a small taste of what Indiana is all about, about farming,” she said. “Farmers are sometimes under-appreciated, and maybe this will help.”

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