School Garden

School garden used to exhibit life cycle of plants at O’Neal
Posted on 10/03/2023
Malachi Sharkey, Kayden Dugger and Luke Provance.

For years, O’Neal Elementary has been using its school garden to help provide students with a hands-on botany education that extends beyond Missouri Learning Standards.

“My goal for them is to one day be able to supply their own food through gardening that they learned back in the third grade,” stated Laura Beth Smith, third grade instructor.

Smith explained that teaching about plant life cycles is part of the science curriculum; students learn about math measurements by using rain gauges, thermometers and yardsticks; and the class does some reading through research conducted.

“There are so many things they can learn, and we try to make all the appropriate connections,” she continued, adding that the students get vitamin D, fresh air and exercise in the process.

Smith, who is in her 20th year teaching at O’Neal, has been growing plants with students for the majority of her tenure, beginning with pots and inflatable swimming pools outside of her classroom windows.

The present-day garden was made possible by utilizing a pest-free, enclosed space from when the connections were constructed between the district’s individual elementary buildings in 2016. Smith’s students water, weed and harvest on a regular basis, as weather permits. “The kids have learned so much about the things that plants need to flourish,” she said.

This school year the garden has really taken off, according to Smith. Instead of relying on store-bought plants, students for the first time were able to harvest the seeds that were sown over the winter by last year’s third graders, who used milk jugs to generate moisture from the sun. “They acted just like greenhouses,” Smith pointed out.

Several more kiddie pools were added over summer school to the space outdoors, along with a compost area. Vegetables that students get to bring home to eat include: tomatoes and cucumbers; bell, chili and banana peppers; and green and yellow beans. The class is additionally caring for a visiting praying mantis named Pincher that they feed grasshoppers to in a netted butterfly house.

The school garden has been a collaborative effort by other faculty members, as well as a supportive principal, Dr. Amy Dill, who has freed up building funds for the purchase of items such as soil, claws, trowels and hoses, Smith noted. A former physical education teacher donated extra timbers from a deck project at home to build the garden beds that Smith and her colleague Amy Ethridge helped put together, along with their spouses. Second grade teacher Jeannie Isom also added a small butterfly garden for the younger students to observe.

Growing up in St. Louis, Smith recalled how her parents operated a farm between Rolla and Salem, and she “just loved being in the country,” getting a break from city life. She now lives in Grandin, where she loves “being in the dirt,” she said, “and doing stuff with my hands outside.”

Jayson Jones of the third grade shared on Tuesday, Sept. 26, how he has learned about “reducing things” (pruning) in order for plants to “get enough sunlight.” “Tomatoes are basically fruit,” added classmate Raylee Burleson about how flowering plants produce fruit, both students enthusiastically exhibiting how much they have retained about horticulture.


Cutline: O’Neal students (left to right) Malachi Sharkey, Kayden Dugger and Luke Provance hold up a thermometer last week in their school garden.

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