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Sheridan school garden gets state recognition

by Carol Rolf | December 24, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
Serena and Brad McGinley coordinate the Sheridan Intermediate School Garden and Outdoor Classroom. Serena McGinley is the fifth-grade science teacher at the school, and her husband, Brad McGinley, is the staff chairman at the Grant County Cooperative Extension Service.

— For students at Sheridan Intermediate School, gardening is more than just playing in the dirt.

It’s learning about, and practicing, the scientific method to determine which plants grow best. It’s learning about cooperation as other entities in the community offer assistance. It’s learning about eating healthfully.

Sheridan Intermediate School was recently recognized as a winner in the 2017 Arkansas Grown School Garden of the Year contest sponsored by the Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Credit of Arkansas, which provided monetary awards. The school was cited for having the Best Nutrition Education Based School Garden. The school received $500, a plaque and recognition by Gov. Asa Hutchinson during a special ceremony Nov. 13 at the state Capitol.

“I am extremely proud of Sheridan Intermediate School,” Sheridan School District Superintendent

Jerrod Williams said. “Students, staff and community members have worked hard to establish and maintain the garden. Not only does the garden provide a unique hands-on educational experience for our students, but it also has served as a great way for SIS to collaborate with many entities in the community. We are grateful to everyone who has supported this outdoor classroom.”

Serena McGinley, the school’s fifth-grade science teacher, led the effort to build the school garden.

“Our garden is used in many facets of environmental education,” McGinley said. “Students are involved in many hands-on and collaborative activities. The garden houses an outdoor weather station that allows students to monitor, record and graph different weather elements. Students are able to more closely examine and experience environmental cycles, such as the water, nitrogen, oxygen and carbon cycles.

“The garden’s ecosystem attracts many insects, allowing students the opportunity to observe the interaction between plants and animals,” she said. “Students also learn the importance of conservation and caring for our natural resources through interactive lessons on soil fertility, soil structure, the water cycle, plant nutrients and photosynthesis. Students learn skills they are able to share with other students and their families.”

Sheridan Intermediate School collaborated with several entities in the community to build and maintain the garden. McGinley’s husband, Brad McGinley, who is the staff chairman at the Grant County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, is involved in several activities with the Sheridan School District, including the garden at Sheridan Intermediate School.

“This is really a great project with lots of community cooperation to get it started and a great partnership between the school and extension to benefit our community,” Brad McGinley said. “The extension service experiments with different varieties of plants on a regular basis and has done that here at the garden. We just recently planted four varieties of strawberry plants — Chandler, Sweet Charlie,

Camarosa and Fronteras — and the students will watch to see which ones do the best.

“We are in a holding pattern right now, waiting until the holidays are over, to see what happens with the strawberries,” he said.

Brad McGinley said the Grant County Master Gardeners worked with the extension office, the school garden committee and students to help design the layout of the garden. The Master Gardeners also helped build the raised beds and advised the students on what to plant and how to maintain the beds.

He said the Grant County Conservation District donated $2,500 to help fund the garden and an additional $500 to maintain the garden.

Serena McGinley said the school’s cafeteria service, Chartwells, “collaborates with our garden committee and uses the produce harvested from the garden in our school meals.

“Chartwells prepares the vegetables and serves them to our students and teachers,” she said. “Our garden has supplied our school with over 3,708 servings of vegetables.”

Serena McGinley said the fifth-graders mentor the younger students.

“Allowing the older students to mentor the younger students has given our fifth-graders ownership to the garden,” she said. “Our school-garden program has excelled leadership skills among our older students. Our community will greatly benefit one day as these student leaders become community leaders.”

During the awards ceremony at the state Capitol, Hutchinson said: “School gardens create valuable teaching experiences because they incorporate hands-on activities with lessons in food production, good nutrition and the overall importance of agriculture. I commend the efforts of educators, students and partners involved with making communities healthier through student-led food initiatives like school gardens.”

Adriane Barnes, director of communications for the Arkansas Agriculture Department, said the Arkansas Agriculture Department and Farm Credit of Arkansas started the contest in 2014 to promote the importance of involving young people in the process of fresh-food production and cultivation. Any Arkansas school, grades pre-K-12, with a working school garden during the 2016-2017 school year, or with a startup proposal for the 2017-2018 school year, was eligible to apply.

“As a farmer-owned cooperative, we believe it’s important to support local food-system initiatives such as the Arkansas Grown School Garden Program,” Farm Credit Midsouth President and CEO James McJunkins said on behalf of the Farm Credit cooperatives of Arkansas. “Local food projects like this are a great way to educate the next generation and the public about food production and agriculture.”

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