LAKEWOOD RANCH — Upon entering the garden at McNeal Elementary School, first-grader Gabriella Nieves steps toward a mass of green leaves and vines and smiles.
Small yellow flowers dot the greenery, but Gabriella squats down and gingerly lifts the plant at a familiar spot.
“Look, it’s a pumpkin,” she says, pointing to a bead-sized fruit.
Gabriella and other students at McNeal Elementary are excited about learning, especially since the school opened its science lab, garden and greenhouse this school year.
Students, faculty and staff at McNeal Oct. 13 celebrated a ribbon cutting for the lab and garden projects, which administrators have been working on for about two years.
“It excites them,” McNeal’s Assistant Principal Katherine Price said of the tri-fold project. “It (creates) an opportunity to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) at a younger age.”
“We’re finally up and running and functional,” she said. “It took a while to get everything in place.”
Over the summer, McNeal administrators converted an old portable building into a science lab that houses equipment for experiments and other tools for learning. The structure, which was painted by a volunteer from Home Depot, previously was used to store furniture.
Although the greenhouse was installed by Falkner Farms late last school year, the structure wasn’t put to use until the start of this school year, at which time fourth-grade teacher Jeannine Germer asked her new students to plant seeds as part of their open house festivities. When children arrived on campus for the first day of school, the plants already had begun to grow. Students in third through fifth grades later started seeds in the greenhouse, growing everything from lettuce to cucumbers, while students in kindergarten through second grade are responsible for taking care of the adjacent garden, a project that is being led by first-grade teacher Jodi Logan.
“My mission was getting them to know where (their food) comes from,” Logan said of gardening. “Also, having that responsibility and learning patience (was important).”
“They’re learning a lot about science; they’re learning how plants grow,” she said. “It’s exciting for teachers to hear (from students), ‘When can we eat those vegetables (from the garden)?’”
Students at McNeal said they couldn’t be more excited about the projects either.
“The science lab is pretty cool,” 6-year-old Morgan McCade said. “It has everything you can test (in it). I think I’ll learn a lot.”
One of his classmates, Christian Ordetx, agreed, noting he had conducted a science experiment in which he and classmates had tested which items — a penny, a piece of wood, a spoon, a popsicle stick or a small pumpkin — would float.
“I didn’t think the pumpkin would float, but it did,” he said. “In the garden, there’re pumpkins and cucumbers, beans and lettuce. It makes me feel happy to watch (them grow).”
Germer said teachers and students will continue learning about gardening throughout the year, as they will decide what plants are appropriate to put into the soil at what times, among other considerations.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].