The garden planting was a partnership between UF/IFAS Extension of Flagler County and 21st Century Community Learning Centers.
Gathered around two garden beds at Wadworth Elementary School, excitement from a group of third- and fourth-graders grew as they were assigned tasks to prepare the garden for planting.
The planting on Tuesday, Jan. 22, was a collaboration between the Flagler County UF/IFAS Extension and 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which is a $2.5 million academic enrichment grant with Flagler Schools. This free program focuses on students below grade level in math, language arts and/or science, with interactive, after-school curriculum. It’s offered at the three Title I schools in the district, Wadsworth, Rymfire and Bunnell Elementary.
The students were surprised by the tiny size of the carrot seeds that Travis Mitchell, food systems specialists with UF/IFAS, handed out to them to plant in small holes they made in the soil with their fingers.
“Our main focus is on nutrition, so that’s really why we use the school gardens,” said Mitchell, who built the garden beds. “There’s a lot of studies showing that kids who participate in school gardens — and you can see it here today — just get so much more excited about the idea of eating vegetables.”
Margaret Cruz, project assistant with the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program, will return to WES to help students harvest the vegetables and fruits they’re tending the rest of the school year.
Pam Sarria, a project manager with 21st Century Community Learning Centers, has seen the benefits of the program first-hand. The program is now in its fourth of five years with Flagler Schools, but Sarria was involved with 21st Century for 16 years in Brevard County before moving here. She said there is a “huge difference in the classroom” because of the program.
“We have to do surveys with the teachers, students and parents every year as well, and the teachers say the behavior is better in the classroom, because it’s more structured than an extended-day program or regular, after-school day care. So, they have to do academics. They’re with a teacher every day for one hour,” Sarria said. “They tie it into the Flagler County curriculum app, but in a fun manner. It’s not like regular classroom work.”
While the carrots seeds fascinated the students, the strawberry plants — some with small berries already blossoming — spurred a lot of smiles.
“They gain a healthy respect for the activities they’re doing,” Sarria said. “Nutrition is a main component of the grant.”
Each 21st Century site has one site manager, four activity leaders, five teachers and 70 students (in grades 1-6) for the daily program, where students are given a free meal every afternoon and then are with a certified teacher for one hour, followed by 1 1/2 hours with the activity leader as they work hands-on with activities such as science projects, writing assignments or garden tending.
In addition to school-year programs, 21st Century also offers a seven-week, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. free summer program for academically qualified students. Visit http://21cclc.flaglerschools.com.