HUGHESVILLE - Ashkar Elementary School in Hughesville is one of 65 schools in Pennsylvania that will be introduced to 'Dig It', a school garden program designed to provide students with an enriched, hands-on curriculum.
The program is being sponsored by Tractor Supply Company, one of the nation's largest rural lifestyle retailers and have designed it specifically for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Headquartered in Tennessee, the company wanted to provide schools a program that will reinforce responsibility and teamwork, give them a bigger understanding of where their food comes from and guide them in the field of agriculture. It started in Tennessee and New York and is now coming to Pennsylvania schools.
Sherry Cowburn, principal at Ashkar Elementary School said the grant application was completed in October and approval was given most recently for a butterfly garden and bird habitat. "We would like to build a butterfly garden and bird habitat for all of our students to enjoy," she said. "We are looking to build and/or purchase 5 to 7 bird feeders to attract native birds."
The school would also like to plant several flowers and shrubs to attract and feed butterflies and eventually place 2 or 3 benches for students to observe. "Our primary objective is to create habitats available for students to observe birds and butterflies as part of our science curriculum," Cowburn added. Students will be able to study life cycles, adaptations, animal behavior and reproduction, and migration patterns.
The school will be consulting with the local Tractor Supply about the types of bird feeders that would work best for natives in the local region. Coordinating teacher, Jessica Pennella said that parents and teachers will also be involved to help maintain the garden.
A curriculum guide was developed and each school will receive a $500 grant to start or sustain a school garden program. The lesson plans are designed to support classroom learning and according to recent surveys by Tractor Supply, are based on the fact that 75 percent believe hands-on-learning is more effective than memorization.
"We are thrilled that the Ashkar Elementary School was chosen for this grant opportunity. The opportunity to design a butterfly habitat, learn about native pollinators and observe birds during feeding will be unique and memorable to our students. The opportunity to work in a "hands' on learning" environment is something that students love. Jess Pennella needs to be congratulated for pursuing this grant opportunity for the students at Ashkar," said Michael Pawlik, Superintendent of East Lycoming School District.
A partnership with the National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization (NAITCO), a nonprofit organization that promotes agricultural literacy in K-12 classrooms across the country, has been established. the Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation will also be affiliated with the program to help get kids outside of the traditional program, allowing them to use their hands and minds in a different way according to Jessica Holmes, creator of the educational program. "The value of a program like Dig It was reinforced by its success in New York and Tennessee, and we're extremely excited to watch it grow in Pennsylvania, California and Utah."
"What better way to educate students about agriculture, and increase their appreciation for the work of farmers than to get them actively engaged in growing food through a school garden?" said Tonya Wible, program director for the Pennsylvania Friends of Agriculture Foundation.
Myers Elementary School in Muncy has been operating a school vegetable garden for the past several years under the direction of kindergarten teacher, John Tewksbury. The garden has been an extension of classroom learning introducing many skills in reading, writing, math and science. "These are relevant applications," he said.
'Dig It' will be applied during the growing season and last through the end of the school year. Each participating student will receive a "child-friendly garden tool set and a Master Gardener Certificate from Tractor Supply upon completion of the program curriculum."