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April 23, 2024

Bell Academy Garden

Teaching students healthier eating habits

By Aimee Robinette

The Bolivar Bullet

Students and faculty at Bell Academy are enjoying the fruits and vegetables of their labor at the school’s Sprouting Garden.

“The initial planning for the garden began with one parent who wanted to plant seeds of healthy habits for not only her children, but all children,” said Principal Tiffanie Russell. “Clare Moore met with our then principal, Sonya Swafford to present the idea of introducing the students and families of Bell Academy to healthier lifestyles through gardening. Swafford felt this would be a perfect addition to Bell Academy as our magnet school focus is math, science, and health. Coach Joyce Aycock and I were quickly brought on board to begin the initial planning phase. We began with six raised beds and a partnership with FoodCorps. We knew we wanted to plant more seeds and watch our students’ love of gardening grow.  We met with a representative from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation to learn more about grant opportunities for school gardens.  

Russell said they are fortunate to have been chosen as a grant recipient. Through much planning, collaborating, long hours, and volunteer assistance we are now not only planting seeds but we have watched our little garden grow into a collaborative learning opportunity for faculty, staff, and students.  

“Through grant funding we now have 17 raised beds, fruit trees, a greenhouse, and a fully operational outdoor classroom and kitchen.  We were also able to fund Krista Davis, our FoodCorps service member last year,” she added. “The Bell Academy Booster Club has been supportive of the garden as well in addition to funding our FoodCorps Service Member this year.  Our children and staff have had amazing opportunities we would not have had if it were not if it were not for many volunteers. It is with a full heart I thank each parent, staff member, community member, student, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Mississippi Foundation, FoodCorps, and all stakeholders who contributed to making our dream a reality.”

They have planted arugula, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, carrots, corn, turnips, watermelon, mustard greens and many other fruits and veggies in their raised beds. They also planted apple, azalea, persimmons, sweet olive and other trees and bushes. Their tower gardens include gourmet lettuce, rainbow chard, basil, bib lettuce, and dinosaur kale. And in the greenhouse, hydroponic lettuce is grown.

The set up is impressive. Russell said it took a great deal of planning on the front end to not only set the goals of what they wanted to accomplish, but how they desired to accomplish it. “Through diligent planning, research, budgeting, and many hours of hard work we are able to provide optimal hands-on learning experiences for our students,” she explained. 

Among those helping were the Bell Sprouts Garden Committee, which includes, Davis, Moore, Aycock, Janie Duke, science lab teacher, parents and family volunteers, FoodCorps staff, academy staff and of course, students.

While it sounds fun to dig in the dirt, there are quite a few lessons learned while gardening. 

“Our students eagerly participate in garden activities and enjoy learning about the life cycle of each of the plants. We utilize FoodCorps lessons and a Life Lab Science Program to connect science, math and literature into hands-on garden and food-based lessons. The process of garden to table is taught across the grade levels. The teachers’ newly gained knowledge in gardening and agriculture is also helping build positive relationships with students and families as they work side-by-side in the school garden. We want the students to learn the process of growing healthy foods and preparing them in order to make healthy choices for a healthy lifestyle. We also want them to learn to be good stewards of the land,” Russell said. “Many students express their excitement every time they come to the garden. Just today a student said garden special is his favorite, because he loves planting and chopping vegetables.” 

Recently, a fourth grade student wrote in a journal, “It would be beneficial to grow my own garden because I can get my own plants, fruit, and vegetables from it. It is also beneficial to have a garden because I have something to do. It gives me a responsibility. It will help me by providing me with good food.”

“The goal of our Bell Academy Sprouts  garden is to provide hands on learning opportunities which include inquiry, observation and experimentation across the curriculum. While science, health,  and nutrition are the primary focus of the school garden, curriculum ties are also made to the subjects of language arts, math, science, social studies and art,” said Russell.

Their produce can be purchased at the Cleveland Farmer’s Market, when it is held.