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A group of teens examining a plant with a teacher.

Leland School Park teacher Angela Hoggan teaches students about gardening.

Gardening Together

Extension helps facilitate Leland school garden

Written by Susan Collins-Smith • Photo by Kevin Hudson

When teachers and administrators at Leland School Park began taking steps to install a school garden in 2019, they had no idea they would get a first-of-its-kind outdoor classroom.

“Originally, it was going to be an in-ground garden,” says Principal Barbara Lucas, explaining that she inherited the project from the former principal. “We were working with Ryan Betz of Delta EATS (Edible Agriculture Teaching Students), and we began talking about ways to improve the project.”

At about the same time, the Mississippi State University Extension Service launched the AIM for CHangE (Advancing, Inspiring, Motivating for Community Health through Extension) program, which is focused on increasing access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity. Alexis Hamilton, Extension agent with the program, began working with Betz.

From there, the project grew into what is now a 2,500-square-foot outdoor classroom. Built on a concrete foundation, it includes three raised beds, a learning station with a chalkboard, and bench seating strategically placed throughout the garden.

Sixth graders, who took a virtual gardening class as fifth graders during the COVID-19 pandemic, attended a gardening class there once a week during the 2021–22 school year as weather permitted.

“We use the garden as a lab, where students can learn about soil, fertilizer, sunlight, watering, and how those things work together to provide food,” Lucas says. “I visited them in the garden, and I know it is doing what we intended. They could tell me all about what they’d learned, so that tells me they were engaged.”

Since its completion in fall 2021, more than 100 students have learned in the garden, which was designed to be sustainable and adaptable. While the outdoor classroom’s top goal is to teach children about gardening, school officials also hope young people will learn to love gardening.

“We want students to learn that food doesn’t come out of a box. For a lot of youngsters, that is an awakening for them,” says Jessie King, Leland School District superintendent. “And ultimately, we want them to go home and create a garden in their own yards.”

Students will be able to taste the produce grown in the garden, and some of the harvest will be used in the cafeteria and given to community organizations.

Hamilton says this garden is a great addition to the gardens at the elementary school and career and technical center.

“This will help keep their interest as they go through middle school,” he explains.

A man holding two small yellow squash stands outside in a garden.
Jessie King, Leland School District Superintendent

MSU students and faculty in the architecture, graphic design, and landscape architecture programs designed the garden.

“This garden is the first of its kind in the Delta,” Hamilton says. “We have another garden now built with the same design in LeFlore County. This is an affordable design that can easily be implemented by other school districts. That’s one of the things I wanted this project to accomplish.”

Operated by the Delta Health Alliance, Delta EATS is a school gardening program for Delta elementary schools. Funding for the project was provided through a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant.

AIM for CHangE work is making a difference all over the Delta; read success stories here.

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Extension Matters Volume 8 Number 3 Cover.

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