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BARACK OBAMA SCHOOL SHARES ITS HORTICULTURE PROGRAM WITH THE COMMUNITY

A new horticulture/community gardening program was unveiled at Barack Obama School of Leadership and STEM in Park Forest-Chicago Heights School District 163 during recent ribbon cutting ceremonies. The event marked the official opening of the school’s new atrium and greenhouse, which will serve as the students’ botany lab and support the horticulture/community gardening program.

In anticipation of the May 23rd ribbon cutting, the school’s students took to the school’s new garden area in front of the new atrium entrance to plant perennials and annuals as part of a botany/beautification project. They also calculated the circumference of the area of a garden circle to plant a pizza garden, which is divided into wedges for plantings of tomatoes, peppers, oregano and basil. Students also applied their conceptual understanding of symmetry to calculate the dimensions of a butterfly garden, which holds plants that promise to attract butterflies of various species. Artist easels are placed in the gardens so that students can sketch plants in their various phases of growth or write brief poems inspired by the plantings.

“Everything that you see here today was done by students,” said Superintendent Joyce Carmine to guests during the ribbon cutting ceremony. “They planted the flowers and vegetables, grew and harvested the lettuce you see in the tower gardens in the atrium, and created murals on the atrium walls that let you know what STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) means to them.”

In anticipation of the planting project, the students surveyed area landscapers to learn what plants community members would be most interested in harvesting or purchasing. They also surveyed the Barack Obama School student body to learn of fellow students’ favorite plants – the marigold was the top choice. As part of their botany studies in the school’s Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) lab, the students learned how to care for the plants, what plants benefited from sun or shade, and what plants were drought resistant. During early May’s sunny days, students spread mushroom compost in the garden area and planted such perennials as bee balm, catnip and coreopsis.

Under the direction of Nancy Herschberger, math/horticulture teacher, and Michelle O’Connor, District science consultant, the students studied plants and started seedlings of flowers, herbs and vegetables in the NGSS lab and placed them under grow lights or in tower gardens that provide the proper light and a constant flow of nutrients and water.

After the seedlings matured, the students and Ms. Herschberger moved the plants to the greenhouse where students will observe them and use them for hands on botany studies. Recently harvested lettuce was given to guests at the ribbon cutting. The next phase of the gardening program is for the students to experience entrepreneurship through options that support the community.

Sixth grade student Grant Durham noted in his welcome to guests, “I am learning what horticulture means, the process of seed reproduction, and why it is necessary to have the proper PH balance to ensure that plants survive. The greenhouse is truly extraordinary! Every year there are new and exciting challenges and opportunities given to the students at Barack Obama School. I can’t wait to see what my 7th grade year will bring!”