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Better living through gardening – The Sprouts Academy teaches students more than just plant care

Over the past school year, the Havana Garden Club has worked with middle school students at Havana Magnet School, teaching them the fundamentals of growing, nurturing, and making use of plants, along with some essential life skills that reach beyond the walls of the garden.

Meeting for twenty minute classes every Tuesday and Thursday at a greenhouse on the school’s campus, the Sprouts Academy is a way for students to learn how to raise plants that can be either displayed in arrangements or used as food, while also learning patience and discipline, in a fun way.

“When I became president of the [Havana] Garden Club this time, I thought there was something we could do to involve the community outside ourselves,” said Edna Hall-Whitehead.

Brainstorming with her family over things that might appeal to local children, Whitehead’s granddaughter came up with the concept of a kid’s gardening program, and also designed the logo.

As the idea was discussed in the garden club, member Nancy Adams became the project coordinator.  

“I went out last summer and talked to the school,” Whitehead continued. “The office manager, Mrs. Ashley Brown was my first contact. She said, ‘We have the perfect place for you!”’

“It was just a casual conversation in the flower shop,” Brown recalls. “Mrs. Whitehead asked me if Principal Hickman might like the idea, and I said I’m more than sure she would, because she’s all for anything to bring more culture and skills to our students.”

The perfect place was a sturdy greenhouse and outdoor garden area on the school campus.

“The heart of it was here,” said Whitehead. “It didn’t have water. It didn’t have a lot of things, but it had potential.”

After meeting with principal Thelma Hickman and other school officials, who approved the project, the Sprouts Academy was born.

“Believe it or not, kids come to school more for socialization,” Hickman said. So we started ‘Prime Time,’ which is 20 minutes every day after lunch where the kids can join a club that they desire. The kids got interested in the clubs and it took off from there. The garden club especially, because those kids were excited. That was the first club to come out and give a presentation to all the middle school kids in the cafeteria. The line was so long when they asked who would be interested in joining the Sprouts Academy. So we knew then that we had chosen a great program for our students. We want them to be interested, we want them to build friendships and network with other people, and we want them to be able to socialize here at school. Even though education and academics is first, we also know that socialization is important as well, and so we try to bridge it all together.” 

The greenhouse was cleaned up and made functional, and classes eventually began.

“Gardening teaches life skills,” Whitehead explained. “I’m a farmer’s daughter, and I learned hands-on. The best part of what these children are learning is delayed gratification. They learn from a seed that you have to be patient, understanding. Tender it, take care of it, nurture it, and watch it grow. Give it what it needs, and at the end, you will have a product that you can actually turn into a monetary value.”

Indeed, the Sprouts will have an opportunity to prove that this coming April, when all of the plants will go to the Havana Garden Club Plant Sale. 

The proceeds earned from selling these plants will be given to the Sprouts in the form of gift cards (cash cannot be given to students).

The sale will take place at the Hazel Baker Community Center on April 13 this year.

“I would like to say thank you to the Sprouts Academy for our partnership,” said Hickman. “Because this is a mission and a vision of ours, and they have made it come to reality. Not only are they helping our students, they are helping me fulfill my vision of bringing more partners to assist our kids with other things. There may be FRM or Stone’s to help because our kids are interested in woodworking or small engines. This is just the beginning of what we are trying to do.”

“We’re more of a pilot right now, looking to see how it works out,” said Whitehead of the program. “As well as a vehicle to merge our community and our schools. This an age bracket that is very challenging anyway, and for them to find something they may even develop into a future, that would be our ultimate goal that they become self-sufficient, and grow just as their seeds are, into mature adults, able to take care of themselves and plant something and say: ‘I did that! I created that! And there is a great sense of satisfaction from that.”

“And that’s part of our vision for our students,” added Hickman. “We want them to be self-driven learners, who think critically, and who take ownership of their own learning in a positively charged learning environment.” 

Stephen Klein – Gadsden County News Service