Eldridge Park students will witness life cycle of garden plants thanks to ed foundation grant

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Hoping to encourage little thumbs to become green thumbs, Janssen Pharmaceutical has donated $3,000 to the Eldridge Park School – through the Lawrence Township Education Foundation – for the elementary school’s Next Generation Garden project.

Karen Faiman, the executive director of the Lawrence Township Education Foundation, presented a check for $3,000 to school district officials at the Lawrence Township Public Schools Board of Education’s Oct. 14 meeting.

The grant will allow the Eldridge Park School to build four raised-bed garden boxes – one for each grade level – so the students can grow carrots, lettuce, beets, basil, lavender and thyme.

Each student in the grades K-3 elementary school will experience a particular cycle of the garden, from seed to germination to young plant and adult plant, said Kristin Burke, the district’s Elementary STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) supervisor.

Kindergarten students will focus on the importance of nutrition and garden growth, and first grade students will learn about recycling and composting, Burke said. The second grade students will learn about the plant life cycle and the third grade students will design garden beds.

Burke said that a portion of the kindergarten and second grade Life Science standard focuses on planning and conducting an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow. In the Next Generation Garden, the students will observe those four cycles – from seed to adult plant, she said.

The students will learn that a plant begins its life as a seed, so they will plant seeds in the soil. Germination occurs after the seed has spent time in the soil. It begins to grow roots and sprouts. Young plants need sunlight and water to grow. The adult plant produces flowers, ensuring that the life cycle continues.

“Students will walk away with a better understanding of what gardeners and farmers need to know about plants in order to help them grow and thrive,” Burke said.

In the process of establishing and growing a garden, the students also will learn how to collaborate and how to problem-solve as they hone their inquiry skills. Each grade level will be “immersed” in the science and engineering practices that are described in the New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Science, she said.

The science and engineering practices describe the behavior scientists engage in as they investigate, explore and question natural phenomena, said Sabrina Lucchesi. She teaches second- and third-grade students at the Eldridge Park School.

“The activities designed for each grade level allow students to ask questions, investigate and analyze data,” Lucchesi said. “For example, if a student recognizes an issue with plant growth, they may begin to design and strategize a solution to the problem, carry out this strategy and analyze their results.”

The raised bed garden is an outgrowth of an earlier grant to the Lawrence Township Education Foundation, also from Janssen Pharmaceutical, Faiman said.

Two years ago, Janssen Pharmaceutical donated $4,336 to the Lawrence Township Education Foundation, which in turn used the money to buy small greenhouses for the Eldridge Park, Lawrenceville, Ben Franklin and Slackwood elementary schools and for the grades 4-6 Lawrence Intermediate School.

The outdoor classrooms allowed teachers to expand learning opportunities outside of the four walls of the classroom, Faiman said. Greenhouses in schools brought to life a multitude of lessons that were covered in the classroom and that had a lasting impact on the students’ education, she said.

Students observed firsthand how the weather impacts growing conditions and gained a better understanding of gardening and growing plants native to the region. They also learned about plant life cycles, she said.