How does your garden grow?

East Central sixth-graders hope their garden grows plenty of peas, tomatoes, potatoes, watermelon, strawberries, carrots and hopefully, someday, pears and blood oranges.

They may be dreaming big right now, but this garden will be a legacy they plan to leave for future generations of East Central students.

These sixth-graders will be the ones who begin the school garden, actually seeing it through from the first seed of the idea through the planning and the planting and the first harvest.

Each grade level is tasked with working on project-based learning and sixth-grade math teacher Jessica Hewitt heard about the class garden idea at a STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math – convention in Athens.

“It piqued my interest,” she explained. “I thought it was a good way to get the students really involved and interested. Plus it is a way for them to leave a legacy and maybe they can come back to visit the school as seniors and see that it is still thriving.”

The garden is encompassing all aspects of STEAM. Students in math classes are using measuring and graphing to plan the garden. In science class, they are researching which plants will grow best in the area, as well as learning how to make sure the plants thrive once planted. Also, to bring in the arts aspect, the students designed prototype gardens in an online garden app and wrote a proposal for DonorsChoose.org, so they could raise money for needed supplies.

The website is set up to help teachers get donations for classroom projects from across the country. Anyone interested in helping fund a project may simply scroll through the list and make a donation.

Hewitt’s project received $1,100 from donors – not only from Rome, but from California, Arizona, Texas, New Jersey, Kansas, Ohio and Missouri, according to East Central principal Kristin Teems.

With the donated money, Hewitt bought gardening tools and a rolling, multi-level garden tray with UV lighting so students could start planting seeds now in Hewitt’s classroom and then transplant them to the garden when planting season gets here.

The sixth-graders even got to have a vote on what the garden would look like. Students split into groups and drew plans on graph paper, then used a garden planner website to polish their ideas. The groups presented their ideas to everyone and the sixth-graders voted on their favorite. The students will begin building the winning entry — a raised garden bed in the shape of an “EC” for East Central – in the next few weeks.

School officials have even discovered a way to use recycled pallets for the garden beds, Teems said.

“We researched online and found a site devoted to how to build a raised garden bed out of untreated pallets,” she said.

Students are excited about the project, Hewitt said. While some students may get to garden at home in their backyards, most of them do not have any hands-on experience with planting and tending vegetable gardens.

“The raised garden will be an opportunity for them to see how food gets to the grocery store,” explained Teems. “Say you’re looking at a tomato in the grocery store. What went into getting that tomato there? We want them to understand the process and the work involved. You can’t just dig in the dirt and throw a seed in the ground. We want them to be a part of this every step of the way.”

Teems said she expects her students will enjoy just seeing the results of their work.

“Seeing their efforts through a harvest will be incredible for them,” she said.

The final decision on what to do with the harvest has not been made yet, said Hewitt.

“We will probably sell some and donate some,” she said. “One student had the idea of potting some of the plants and giving them to nursing homes.”

There is no need to worry about the garden during the summer break, either, Hewitt added.

“My mom is a master gardener, so she is very excited about coming to the school during the summer to tend it and make sure it is ready for the next round of sixth-graders,” she said.