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In July 2021, Lockport Upper Elementary School announced its plans to build a therapeutic garden for its students to provide both academic and therapeutic opportunities. The garden would not only give students a beautiful landscape with seating and a water feature, but it would also allow students to plan, plant, and maintain grade-level gardens.
The plan was to build the garden in the school’s courtyard in Fall 2021. The garden would provide hands- on learning, teambuilding, and environmental stewardship experience while offering social and emotional benefits.
The school began fundraising and developed a partnership with Double Oak Garden Center to assist with planning and providing materials for the construction of the garden. Unfortunately, the devastation from Hurricane Ida in August 2021 interrupted the plans for the project.
Students were out of school for two to three months. Local businesses, many of which supported the garden project, were hit extremely hard by damage from the storm, putting a financial burden on the entire community.
In February 2022, LSU AgCenter nutrition agent Kristy Monier partnered with LKUES to revive the project. The AgCenter agent offered to provide funding and garden-based nutrition education to help the school pick up where they left off.
With help from Double Oak Garden Center, construction on the garden began in June 2022. The AgCenter also provided garden signs to help students learn more about the produce they were planting. When students returned in Fall 2022, kids from each grade level planted cucumbers, broccoli, purple cauliflower, and herbs. They even added strawberries in the Spring. Once the vegetables were harvested, students tasted the produce they grew.
According to fifth grade teacher Lorraine Prados, students enjoyed plenty of cucumbers and a little bit of broccoli before a freeze took out their broccoli and cauliflower plants over Christmas break. She also reported that after a slow start, their strawberry plants produced plenty of berries for students to pick, wash, and sample.
Along with planting the fruits and vegetables, the fourth and fifth grade students participated in nutrition lessons taught by Monier. Students learned about plants, food safety, balanced eating, and physical
activity. They also tried new fruits and vegetables every week and finished off the lessons with a healthy snack. Signs were also placed throughout the school cafeteria to reinforce what they learned during the lessons.
The school plans to start a garden club next year that will organize seasonal crop planting and maintain the garden. School staff also plan to recruit local Master Gardeners to assist with the garden.
“Our partnership with LSU AgCenter allowed us to change an empty, unappealing space into something beautiful and functional for all students to enjoy,” said Prados. “Students were able to observe and learn about crop growth while simultaneously enjoying a peaceful, therapeutic environment.”
Monier says the LSU AgCenter would like to thank the administration and teachers at LKUES for allowing them to be a partner in their garden project, as well as for allowing them to teach their students about gardening and the importance of making healthy food choices.
“We are very honored and excited to have been a part of getting the school’s garden back on track,” said Monier. “I had a fun and wonderful time interacting with the students in the garden and the classroom. I am looking forward to returning to school next year to join the students to plant their produce and educate them back in the classroom setting.”