West Miami-Dade

Kids cultivate a healing garden at Seminole Elementary

Valarie Arce, 7, with string beans picked at the garden at Seminole Elementary School on Thursday, March 5, 2015. The school started a garden as part of their participation in the Fairchild Challenge. The Challenge has taught students and teachers at Seminole Elementary to grow and take care of 54 different varieties of plants such as bananas, beans, chocolate mint and lavender in their school garden, which they call “an outdoor classroom” that recycles and uses water from the school building’s A/C system.
Valarie Arce, 7, with string beans picked at the garden at Seminole Elementary School on Thursday, March 5, 2015. The school started a garden as part of their participation in the Fairchild Challenge. The Challenge has taught students and teachers at Seminole Elementary to grow and take care of 54 different varieties of plants such as bananas, beans, chocolate mint and lavender in their school garden, which they call “an outdoor classroom” that recycles and uses water from the school building’s A/C system. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

While some kids might think fruits and vegetables come from the supermarket, the kids at Seminole Elementary know better: They grow their own edible garden.

Kindergartners and first-graders kneel along the patch of grass and start cutting out bush beans, harvesting one of the many square plots in the garden.

Taking part in the Fairchild Challenge, the Seminole Elementary students have been cultivating their garden for about three years with the help of members of the community. By doing so, the children learn by seeing and doing.

“Kids don’t know much about the plant life cycle until they see it,” said Diana Peña, the Fairchild Challenge Elementary Coordinator.

The Fairchild Challenge, a school-based environmental science competition that was started for middle and high schools in Miami-Dade County about 13 years ago, also started engaging elementary school kids a few years ago, Peña said.

“It gives teachers a way to introduce environmental awareness in school,” she said. “We’ve been growing steadily.”

The competition, managed by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, encompasses several challenges — from arts-and-crafts projects to writing activities. One of the toughest challenges, Peña said, is starting a school garden.

It takes a lot of effort and resources to start and maintain a garden, Peña said, so Fairchild offers some grants to help schools develop gardens.

John Siddons, the school counselor, said he has also gotten a lot of help from the surrounding community. He has received plant and soil donations from the Home Depot nearby and occasionally makes the trip down to Teena’s Pride farm in the Redland.

Students and teachers at Seminole Elementary have learned to grow and take care of 54 varieties of plants. All grade levels take part in the school garden, by planting plants inside the classroom, then transplanting them to the garden soil, cultivating and harvesting.

Siddons will walk around and pull a few volunteers from elective classes throughout the day to go help out.

The garden is just outside a corridor of classrooms, and most kids walk by it on their way to gym class or the cafeteria. By the garden, two large buckets hold the water that drips from the building’s air-conditioning system, which is then used to water the plants.

Siddons said that although the garden is part of the Fairchild Challenge, it has become an important fixture for the school. The garden project, as well as the fruits of that labor, has become therapeutic for the students, he said. Even the plants’ aroma helps soothe the children.

“When a child is stressed out, I hand them a mint leaf, and the smell relaxes them,” he said.

Siddons has given presentations in the past year on the garden’s therapeutic effects to 200 school counselors in the Miami-Dade County school district who are interested in stress-relieving techniques for students.

A group of fourth-graders take some time from their gym class on Thursdays to look over their square plot, called “Salsa Garden.” They planted beans as well as basil, pepper and chocolate-mint plants.

Isabella Nuñez, 9, hold up a chocolate-mint leaf to her nose and breathes in deeply.

Her classmate, Miguel Quintero, also 9, laughs.

“It smells like a peppermint patty,” Miguel said.

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