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Gardening skills take root in 4-H
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A new 4-H horticulture curriculum is taking root in classrooms across Mississippi, and students are gaining a new appreciation for gardening.
Lelia Kelly, area Extension horticulturist in Verona, said test results from the first Junior Master Gardeners have some educators and youth workers enthused about the program's potential. Administered by the Mississippi State University Extension Service, 11 schools and six after-school clubs took part in a pilot program in the spring of 2001.
"The Junior Master Gardener program offers a curriculum that complements key lessons students are required to know for third through fifth grades. Teachers also have used the curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grades, including special education classes," Kelly said.
The Junior Master Gardener curriculum includes eight chapters of material covering many subjects from basic botany to career opportunities. Each chapter also provides a wide variety of activities.
"The activities were designed to increase academic achievement, develop leadership skills and provide community service projects for youth," Kelly said. "Teachers or other leaders can choose to do activities outside or inside. The program is very flexible."
Sandra Murphy, a fourth grade teacher at Caledonia Elementary School, said the main benefit of the JMG program is that students have fun while they are learning. At Caledonia, Murphy and special education teacher Pat Hudgins have used the curriculum in a wide variety of ways including environmental club activities, landscaping around the school, and on field trips to the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge.
"The material can be used to teach science, math, social studies and language arts," said Murphy, who is Mississippi's Science Teacher of the Year. "Our school has strong, established programs in reading and math, and the Junior Master Gardener program is helping strengthen our science curriculum as well. The students love the hands-on activities."
Murphy said Chevron Community Pride grants help fund the program, and Weyerhauser helps pay for the garden supplies. Additional sponsorship of the statewide program comes from the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association.
"This is truly a joint effort to help children learn. It works because of the cooperation between 4-H and Extension horticulture specialists, businesses and industries, and educators, parents and students," Murphy said.
Survey results from the pilot projects show that the program can increase awareness and attitudes of students, parents and teachers regarding horticultural issues. Students showed more interest in plants and gardening and environmental awareness after taking part in the program. Academic scores improved for half of the students who took part.
To learn more about Junior Master Gardener programs, contact 4-H youth agents at local county Extension offices.