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East County Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 6 days ago

Grant leads to Willis Elementary's plants in Lakewood Ranch

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Lakewood Ranch teacher receives Splash! grant to grow a garden by the school's new addition.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

The outside of Robert E. Willis Elementary School is surrounded by beautiful flowers, bushes and other plants.

The same can’t be said for the outside of the school’s new addition, but Julie Santello, a second grade teacher at the school, has a plan to fix that.

Santello received a Splash! grant of $3,000 from the Southwest Florida Water Management District to go toward landscaping by the new addition. 

“There was no landscaping, just grass,” Santello said. “I could envision seeing the same types of plants [as the other buildings] planted against the building and along the sides, and I thought: ‘Why not? Let’s see if we could get this done.’ It’s a learning opportunity for the kids to be able to plant things and to understand what can be grown in Florida.”

About 90 students will be involved in planting various plants in a garden by the new addition in January or February. Santello said January and February is a good time of year to plant in Florida because it’s not too hot, and it’s not during the rainy season.

The grant will pay for the plants, shovels, mulch and other supplies. Some of the plants will be blue porter weed, fire spike and milkweed. Santello said each of the 90 students will have at least one plant.

“The inside of that building is so beautiful; it’s gorgeous,” Santello said. “It will be an amazing feeling to know the outside is as pretty as the inside because we work together as a team, and we got kids to be involved.”

Santello said the garden will give the students a sense of pride because every time they pass the garden, they’ll be able to say they had a part in its creation.

“They would walk by it every single time they had PE and be like, ‘I did that,’ and it’ll be an amazing experience for them to have that ability to say, ‘I was part of our new building that first year,’” Santello said.

As an added touch, Santello would like to get donations to add birdhouses in the garden as well as a wall-hanging gecko, which is the school’s mascot, with the students’ names on it.

Santello said the garden will be able to provide students with various learning opportunities including how to plant, what plants can grow in Florida, how they can help the environment and the life cycles of some of the wildlife that will be attracted by the plants.

“Kids don’t get their hands in the dirt enough anymore,” Santello said. “They don’t understand how roots grow and how by taking a plant out of a little pot and putting their hands on the roots, they’re learning how it has to sit in the ground, and they can visualize how the roots can spread out.”

She said it is a hands-on lesson for the students to understand the structure of plants and the things that plants need.

In the future, picnic tables could also be added to the garden, so classes can simply go outside and enjoy the garden.

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