The Plants Grow Children program includes age-appropriate lessons targeted to each grade level, from kindergarten through fifth grade. The units are: The Miracle of the Seed for kindergarden; the Mini-Greenhouse for first grade; the Amazing Potato for second grade; Tree-mendous Trees for third grade: Composting with Worms for fourth grade; and Everyday Insects for fifth grade. A unit. the Flower, for the sixth grade was dropped because of scheduling problems with middle schools. The Fantastic Peanut was the second grade curriculum for eighten years, but was replaced by the unit on potatoes due to problems with peanut allergies.
Each of the units involves an action learning activity where students produce something significant to the lesson to reinforce learning, such as a seed planted in a cup or a hand-made insect magnet. Students are encouraged to bring these projects home along with a handout informing parents about the Plants Grow Children program and providing any necessary instructions for further action – e.g., how to care for a seed planted in class. The handout increases awareness of the Master Gardener program and Washington State University Extension. Because of the high number of Hispanic households involved, the handout is printed in Spanish as well as English.
In 2007, the program reached 12,358 K-5 students in 517 classes from 37 schools. Approximately 34% of these students were minority or special needs children.
Participation has characteristically been highest at the kindergarten, first, and second grade levels. In 2007, grade level participation was as follows:
Registering for Classes
In February, public and parochial school principals are contacted. If they wish to participate, they fill out a registration form to request Plants Grow Children lessons for specific classrooms, indicating the number of students per class and teachers’ names. They also agree to pay 25 cents per student to help defray the cost of learning activity supplies. Each school designates an internal contact person – the principal, an office secretary, or a teacher – for scheduling the classes. The registration deadline is usually sometime in early March.
Volunteer Staff Prepare to Teach
Once registration forms have been returned to the Master Gardener office, volunteer Master Gardeners go to work to meet the demand. A “computer entry director” sees that registration information is entered into a database set up to keep track of scheduling, billing, and evaluation. A “scheduling director” then calls schools to schedule specific classes.
A “supply director” gathers supplies, soliciting donations and purchasing any necessary items not covered by donations. “Work parties” are organized by the Extension agent and the supply director to assemble necessary materials for students. This may involve filling peat pots with soil or stapling tree booklets together. All Master Gardeners are encouraged to participate in these work sessions.
“Unit leaders” are selected for each grade-level lesson. They organize teachers and teaching assistants for each lesson and communicate their availability to the scheduling director who will make assignments for scheduled classes. Unit leaders and teachers organize necessary supplies, parent letters, and evaluations for use in classes. Unit leaders may also teach classes. Classes are taught in late March, April, and early May.
At the end of each class, Master Gardener teachers leave an evaluation form for classroom teachers to fill out and return to the Extension office. This evaluation provides feedback on performance, suggestions for improvement, and affirmative action data. When all classes are completed, evaluation results are entered in the database.