Clark-Vitt Elementary teacher Linda Schwoeppe didn’t know much about gardening when her students asked her to start a garden club two years ago. She said that in many ways, she’s learned as the students have, day-by-day.
“I always had piddled with it, but I’ve never done a lot of gardening,” Schwoeppe said. “The kids came to me with it and I said ‘sure.’ I’ve had to do my research as well. I’m learning as they learn.”
Clark-Vitt’s gardening club has grown, both in the number of students who participate and the amount of space the club uses. Schwoeppe said the club has garnered so much interest that the students have outgrown the garden itself. Nearly 40 students worked in the garden during the school year, and more than 25 joined during the summer session.
“We decided we need to build a bigger garden because with all of these kids I can’t get enough of them out there,” Schwoeppe said. “They want to be out there all the time and to let them do that we need a bigger garden.”
The gardening club gets most of its equipment and plants through donations from area businesses. Lowe’s in Washington helped the garden get off the ground with a donation through its Lowe’s Heroes program. Sharon’s Nursery in Union has donated all the seeds and plants to the club.
Fourth-, fifth- and sixth -grade students work in the garden before school or during their lunch hours if they choose to do so. Schwoeppe said students are allowed to come during their lunch hour, but are under no obligation to do so.
Still, students fill up the garden during recess time tending to their plants, she said.
Some of the produce is cooked and used as healthy food choices for the students in the club. Over the summer the club cooked homemade potato chips, fried cabbage, potato dumplings and onion rings.
And while many of the plants are harvested and cooked by the students to teach them life skills and new recipes, a portion of the harvest is given to the Union Food Pantry.
Schwoeppe said students learn about different topics in the club, from things as complex as decomposition to as simple as responsibility.
Students have a job wheel and are expected to fulfill their duties during the time allotted in the day.
“We have kids who are interested in science and we have kids who just want to dig in the dirt,” Schwoeppe said. “They’re researching, they’re planting, they’re cooking . . . you name it and they’re doing it.”
Schwoeppe, who teaches at-risk students said that most of all, at-risk and special needs students at Clark-Vitt get the out of the club. For her at-risk students, it’s a reason to come to school and learn.
“You’re always looking for anything that will keep interest and keep them at school,” Schwoeppe said. “It’s a good incentive for a lot of them and it gives them a goal to work toward.”
Clark-Vitt Principal Aaron Burd said the program has been a great addition to the school. Assistant Principal Rhea Summers added that attendance for at-risk students in the program has improved since the garden started two years ago.
Schwoeppe is accepting donations to help the garden grow. Currently, she is looking for donations of raised flower beds, trowels, rakes, a hoe, gloves, a hose and sprinkler, waterproof containers to store tools, weed barriers, trellis, paving stones, sand, top-soil, manure compost and brown mulch.
“We’re trying to make it where we’re helping a lot of people and getting our kids acquainted with things they normally wouldn’t try,” Schwoeppe said. “We want to open them up to different things.”