Super sprouts

Six students crowded into the tiny greenhouse behind South Whidbey Intermediate School. Trays of tiny containers of soil are beginning to sprout different vegetables and flowers. Today students are each holding a tiny container of soil to transplant nasturtiums that are already an inch tall.

Garrett Smithberg, a 4th-grader says he likes to garden, “a lot.”

“I just like to plant things and see them grow,” Smithberg said.

Another student, Austin Free says he likes to work in the school garden and greenhouse because “when we plant stuff it helps the school look more beautiful.”

These students are members of “Super Sprouts,” an after school garden club at the Intermediate School.

The club meets for 90 minutes several times a month to work in the greenhouse and adjacent garden. Besides gardening, club members are involved in craft projects. This spring they are making terra cotta bird baths decorated with colorful pieces of tile and glass.

The three-year-old club is led by fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Gandarias, and Mary Ridley, a third-grade teacher.

Gandarias said the club offers extended learning experiences for the students and is an alternative to sports activities.

“Not all students are interested in sports and this gives them an outlet to be involved.”

While Gandarias works with students in the greenhouse, Ridley is inside a classroom with another five students making craft projects appropriate for garden use.

Fourth-grader Jessica Dunn said she likes working on the crafts, especially the birdhouses painted earlier this spring.

On the craft table are containers filled with tiles, chunks of glass and a bucket of keys donated by a local hardware store owner.

Students are wearing plastic gloves and one student is in charge of dabbing a drop of waterproof glue on tiles held out by the other students.

Ridley said the glue used is expensive so it use it sparingly.

“Teachers are hoarders. We have to be,” Ridley said referring to the assortment of craft materials.

Another project for the group this year was to participate in the Northwest Garden Show in Seattle in February.

“They worked in pairs creating small container gardens with different themes. They received a recognition plaque for their effort,” Gandarias said.

This club, like all after school activities in the district do cost money. But Gandarias said private donations have helped keep the project going.

“We have been helped by the National Garden Association with a donation of materials.

Super Sprouts was selected from more than 500 kids’ gardening programs nationwide to receive a Youth Garden Grant of materials. Those materials range from soil, plants, seeds and fertilizers. A press release from the organization’s director, Joan White said “the (South Whidbey Intermediate) program was selected because of a demonstrated commitment to actively and creatively engaging youth in the gardening process.”

The club also received a grant from South Whidbey Schools Foundation.

According to Doug Hale, principal of the Intermediate School, the garden club and other clubs at the school offer enrichment activities for students.

He credits Gandarias for the creation of the garden club.

“She has an avid passion for growing things and wanted to share that with the students. Not only does she give her time, but she donates her small stipend back to the club,” he said.

Hale said the teachers had been asking for a greenhouse for several years to use in teaching.

“We found the money to buy the greenhouse with Associated Student Body funds,” he said. “It was a good marriage of ASB funds and a teacher stepping up to take charge.”

But as the district faces program and personnel cuts, maintaining clubs, even those that cost the district very little money may be difficult.

Hale said a small stipend to each school building in the district, $2,500, covers a variety of after-school projects. At the Intermediate School, the funds are used to support the garden club, Destination Imagination teams, Math Olympiad teams, to buy additional books for student enrichment, and other club activities.

But as the students are excitedly working in the greenhouse on this spring day and designing interesting palettes in bird baths, they are not thinking or worrying about funding, and Gandarias is optimistic.

“Our next goal is have picnic tables and benches in the garden, so the entire school could use them during lunch and recess.”

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