EDMOND — The three young boys who are digging in the mud say they have a plan. Two girls, one with a butterfly in her hair and the other wearing yellow sunglasses, also are working in the dirt.
These students and 33 others in St. Mary's Episcopal Elementary School's Beyond the Classroom after-school program aren't playing outside during recess. They are in the gardening business and are getting their spring crops ready.
This is the third year the students have raised vegetables and flowers to be sold, given away or eaten at school.
The idea came from after-school classmates Joshua Swisher, 9, Charlie Schultheiz, 9, and Caden Trammell, 10.
“We started a club and wanted a garden, and we went to the teacher,” said Joshua, a third-grader. “It puts us closer to nature so later in life we don't want to be couch potatoes.”
“We agreed we needed a garden,” said Charlie, a fourth-grader. “It is a good experience and really fun.”
“I like everything about it,” said Caden, a fourth-grader.
The garden program has been around for three years under director Donna Mackiewicz, a naturalist.
“It is definitely rewarding,” Mackiewicz said. “It is really important that they get outside so they can explore and learn about nature.”
Students grew turnips this winter and sold them to buy potting soil for this spring's gardens.
They raised enough tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic to make a big bowl of salsa, which they shared with fellow students.
“Students ask to stay here and don't want to go home,” Mackiewicz said. “One of the rules I had to suggest was when your parent or caregiver comes to pick you up — you must stop and gather your things and leave with no argument. Some still cry or say they want to stay.”
The garden program recently won the Edmond Beautiful 2012 Keep it Clean, Keep it Green award, presented during an Edmond City Council meeting. The award recognizes an Edmond organization that implements a goal to beautify, reduce, reuse and recycle or divert waste within the community.
A banner showing they have been honored hangs in the garden.
The program earlier was nominated for environmental excellence by Keep Oklahoma Beautiful.
Tricia Brown, a science teacher, donated seed to be planted in this season's garden.
One garden will have spearmint to help attract moths and butterflies. A second garden will feature vegetables needed in a salad. Another will have peas and beans.
This year, students are making a rain garden in a damp corner of the garden area. They will plant native grasses there, Mackiewicz said.
“We grow our gardens and protect our wild area at the school to help the planet,” Mackiewicz said. “The kids recycle, compost their waste and take responsibility for their equipment.”
Mackiewicz has been director of the Beyond the Classroom after-school program for four years. She calls her job rewarding.
“Being a naturalist, the kids get exposed daily to little things like noticing spring migration patterns going on right now,” she said. “Recently, we saw flocks of snow geese. Three vultures flew overhead, and they knew what they were.
“The field sparrows are singing, and we are searching for their secretive nests hidden on the ground in the brambles, and we had a ring-necked duck on the pond.”
Mackiewicz encourages her students to use their imaginations and not rely on technology to have fun.
“When I first started four years ago, it was almost comical because some did not have the faintest idea what I meant by using your imagination, because they use things given to them to play with.” Mackiewicz said.
“Now, they can go into the fields and collect rocks and set up a shop where others come to barter with their wares, like rocks of different textures and sizes.”