Imagine a school garden with a series of “sunflower teepees,” growing things like beans, squash, and sunflowers. There is a fountain gurgling with water – a tribute to the Native Americans who traveled through the area on the Trail of Tears. Throughout the garden are seating areas – places for students to gather to learn about growing food and eating healthy—and to gain critical life skills such as perseverance and problem-solving.
All this will soon become a reality at Marion Math, Science, and Technology Magnet (MST), which is one of 52 schools across Arkansas selected for funding through the Arkansas School Garden Grant Program.
The Arkansas Department of Agriculture made the announcement last week. MST will use the $500 grant to enhance its existing garden/greenhouse program, with an eye on connecting the project to local Native American history.
“The specific bean we plan to grow is called the ‘Trail of Tears bean,’” said MST Principal Alexia Weimer. “Because the Trail of Tears runs through Marion, we thought it would be cool to incorporate these beans into our garden/greenhouse program and tie in some local history.”
Weimer said these additions to the garden/greenhouse program will augment what was already a thriving program. Since the implementation of the greenhouse/gardening program, she said she has seen students’ self-confidence increase, especially with healthy eating habits and students’ ability to grow their own food. She said she has also seen students taking a newfound interest in career choices that involve agriculture.
“With the garden and greenhouse, students have the opportunity to practice perseverance skills daily,” she added. “Learning how to fail; how to problem-solve; how to go back to the drawing board and try again. This is a critical life skill necessary for the real world. We, as a school, are getting to help facilitate students through this problem-solving process using gardening/greenhouse as a curriculum.”
Funding for the Arkansas School Garden Grant Program is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The program was developed specifically to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops. The USDA defines specialty crops as fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops.
“School gardens provide a hands-on opportunity for children to learn about Arkansas agriculture and where their food comes from,” said Arkansas Secretary of Agriculture Wes Ward. “The lessons learned through school gardens have a lasting impact on children, their families, and entire communities,”
Weimer said she is thrilled that her students are among those benefitting from that lasting impact.
“We are extremely honored to be one of only 52 schools in Arkansas to receive this grant,” Weimer said. “Personally speaking, as the building principal, my excitement is twofold. Of course, I am thrilled about the opportunities this funding will create for our students and cannot wait to watch them learn and grow through the experiences we plan to implement. I am equally excited and extremely thankful for passionate educators, such as Shannon Banks, who, during a global pandemic, teaching face-to-face, and virtually, are still so on fire for this type of curriculum that they make the time to continuously seek out ways to create the future for our MST students.”
Marion Math, Science, and Technology Magnet is one of five schools in the Marion School District, and one of three magnet elementaries. With a growing enrollment of nearly 3,900 students, the Marion School District is committed to helping students develop the academic, social, and decision-making skills needed to become productive citizens in the rapidly changing technological world. For enrollment information, including information on school choice, visit https://www.msd3.org/ or call 870-739-5100.