Sudduth Elementary School and Oktibbeha Master Gardeners were recipients of the 2021 Governor’s Award from the Mississippi Association of Partners in Excellence (MAPE) for their work together to create excellent, engaging learning experiences for their students in the school garden.
MAPE recognized Sudduth Elementary School and the Oktibbeha Master Gardeners as one of Mississippi’s top school-community partnerships during the virtual 19th annual Governor’s Awards ceremony on March 26.
“The award is given by MAPE to recognize schools that connect with areas of need in their communities,” said Sudduth principal Morgan Abraham. “We were recognized for our students’ exceptional accomplishments in working with the Oktibbeha Master Gardeners Club.” According to Abraham, members of the gardening club came weekly to check the students’ garden at the school and help keep things weeded.
“Some even came every day,” she said.
The school’s Facebook page says the students at Sudduth Elementary School harvest fruits and veggies in their school garden, which is funded with support from Oktibbeha Master Gardeners. Tending to the garden offers hands-on learning experiences for students as they connect physically to nutrition education.
Abraham touts a motivational acronym the school uses called SEED, which represents Sudduth Elementary Exploration and Discovery.
“So many of our students are not aware of the process and cycles involved to bring food to the shelves of the grocery store,” she said. “We emphasize that growing and eating healthy foods makes our bodies healthy and equips us for success in life.”
Volunteers participate in teaching gardening lessons, such as showing students that root vegetables such as carrots grow underground and have green tops before they are taken to the grocery store to be purchased.
The Oktibbeha County Master Gardener Volunteers and Sudduth Elementary School students and staff collaborate each year to provide opportunities for hands-on experience with nature and growing plants for a group of diverse pre-kindergarten, kindergarten, and first grade students at a consolidated public school.
“Many students are apartment dwellers with little chance of planting a seed or harvesting a food product,” Abraham said. “The SEED garden is a place of discovery and exploration for students to experience on a very small scale the full process of planting a seed, watching as it grows, taking care of the plant as it produces a fruit or vegetable, and then harvesting that crop. Once the students have completed the harvest, there is an opportunity for the students to taste test what was grown.”
Taste testing is particularly important as the children get acquainted with fruits and vegetables that may be new to them.
“Smells of garlic and herbs waft through the school as ooohhhhhhs, ahhhhhs, and ‘I’m not eating that’ can be heard throughout the halls during the taste tests,” Abraham said. “Each academic year, twelve simple, entertaining lessons and three supplemental activities presenting basic facts about the living environment and how food is grown are taught by Master Gardener volunteers.”
One Master Gardener, fondly known as “Garden Granny”, serves as coordinator between the school and other Master Gardener volunteers. Lessons are customized by season and scheduled according to the academic calendar and teachers’ time preferences. Snacks that are provided are lesson specific, and children have the opportunity to taste some foods they have never eaten, or possibly even seen or heard of. Visual learning resources and plant examples supplement every lesson.
When the pandemic prevented visitors from coming on campus, the kids continued their gardening on their own.
“We’re glad to be able to resume collaboration with the gardening club since the restrictions are lifting,” Abraham said. “We’re rebounding to be better than ever.”
The short-term experience of growing leafy edibles segues into long-term benefits for the kindergarten and first grade students at Sudduth by giving them a leg up on science courses that are a major component of today’s most sought-after skill sets summarized by another acronym, STEM, which represents Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
Sudduth was selected by MAPE among 29 school-community partnership programs that have produced outstanding results for students in K-12 public schools throughout Mississippi. Other award-winning schools, districts and organizations included Florence, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Jackson, McComb, Meridian, Pascagoula, Richland, Ridgeland, Tupelo, and Vicksburg. The Governor’s Award selection committee, comprising representatives from business, industry, nonprofits and education, judged each entry using a uniform set of criteria to measure overall effectiveness of partnership activities. MAPE’s slogan pitches its mission as “Every community behind every child,” endeavoring to provide training and materials to help build local support for the success of all students.