Lee Means Elementary fourth grade teacher, Felix Rodriguez is taking math out of the classroom and into the garden.
Last school year, after reading “The Lemonade War,” his class was inspired to grow and sell their own produce.
“I told the kids that Harlingen had a farmers market in which we could sell what we grew. That really sparked their interest in gardening,” Rodriguez said. “We started some planting. We worked on length, width, perimeter, area, and skip counting. It was a way to connect what we are doing in the classroom to the real world. Seeing how pumped the kids were inspired me to pursue opportunities and experiences to which I could expose them to.”
Rodriguez reached out to Harlingen Farmers Market manager, Kate McSwain, who along with some friends, donated supplies to get the garden started. Texas Master Gardener, Ann Johnston got involved as well providing Rodriguez with books, websites and other helpful resources on maintaining a garden.
“I was very intrigued and supported the idea of Felix’s class becoming involved in this project because we definitely need more produce growers here in the Valley,” Kate McSwain said. “I told him I would come out to the garden and see what he had going on, and if he was using organic principles, there might be a possibility of him selling them at the market. Upon visiting the garden, we realized that he was in need of some supplies so I talked to a couple of my friends and we decided to make a personal donation. We purchased compost, sphagnum moss, a water hose, and a wheel barrel. This is a fabulous venture and it is even more fabulous when you find a teacher like Felix who is very excited about gardening.”
With six empty garden beds already built on school grounds from a previous grant and the newly donated supplies, the gardening project was ready to get started.
This year, a new group of students has initiated the planting of organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
“Right now we are working on square foot gardening. The idea of square foot gardening is that you square off the planting bed one foot by one foot. In each square we planted something different,” Rodriguez said. “We planted asparagus, broccoli, tomatoes, green bell peppers, jalapeños, eggplant, carrot seeds, kale seeds, basil, and cilantro.”
Although Rodriguez uses gardening as educational reinforcement, students do not work on the garden during instructional time. The garden project is pursued during P.E. class and after school hours.
“This is my first year gardening, and I’ve learned a lot,” fourth-grader, Adam Sanchez said. “I like going outside and planting stuff and just digging.”
Gardening has been a learning process for both the students and Rodriguez. Although are equipped with an abundance of tips from the gardening books, sometimes, unforeseen obstacles can get in the way of a successful garden.
“I have a goal in mind for this garden but right now the ground squirrels are getting in the way,” Rodriguez said. “We will come and plant one afternoon and then return the next morning to see a hole where a plant used to be,” Rodriguez said. “ We have planted many things already but ground squirrels will come and pull the plants out. I laugh about it but it is very, very frustrating. For now, I plan to build a frame to keep the squirrels out.”
Rodriguez’s ultimate goal is to teach his students a life skill and to expose them to different vegetables.
This gardening project will eventually become part of a campus-wide initiative to teach fourth-grade students how to garden.