Recent Posts


Students learn by doing

Published on: February 27, 2020

Apollo Beach Elementary students learn by doing


Some third-grade kids and their 5th-grade counterparts at Apollo Beach Elementary School have been having a ball lately learning the ins and outs of gardening and healthy eating.

During teacher Pam Johns’ class, Apollo Beach Elementary 3rd-graders gather around a sweet potato to check out the new root they propagated in water. From left are Jamie Halsema, Hayden Schofield, Hanna Sobolewski, Kyla Joyce, Julia Banks, MacKenzie Lumpki, Helen Gao and Chimauzo Anaebo.

Thanks to education grants from the American Heart Association and the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the kids planted and are now tending a teaching garden, filled with all kinds of vegetables. Teachers Michelle Friday and Pam Johns and several parent volunteers built structures for the garden Feb. 8, but it’s the students who are making sure the veggies grow to harvest.

The learning garden is giving these children an experience they wouldn’t have had at school without the grant funding. And since they are the ones who are growing the foods they’re learning about, they’ve become thoroughly vested in the program.

“The students were part of the garden design,” said Johns. “They used their knowledge of area and perimeter learned in math class to discuss different designs,” she said, adding that the kids also gained real-world experience by using newly learned estimating skills to understand how the funds for the garden were used.

“The students each planted a seedling of their choice and have been tracking its growth,” she added. “They know which plant is “theirs” and want to point it out to others.”

She’s not kidding. Ask any one of the children how their plant is doing, and they’ll escort you to it immediately.

“The American Heart Association gave us a grant because one-third of children are overweight, and they wanted us to promote healthy eating,” said 10-year-old Abigail Murray, a 5th-grader.

“And it’s a fun way for all the kids to get involved and learn where food comes from and what they are putting in their bodies,” added her classmate Mackenzie Brooks, 11.

The students also planted seeds in starter trays and in the garden beds, and many seeds sprouted in just seven days.

Johns said sometimes, instead of playing at recess, the children check on their plants because they’re so interested in the garden.

“They are super excited about it,” Friday added. “They’ve learned all about the plants in the area, gardening without pesticides and lots more.”

The teaching garden is a hands-on learning lab that helps kids understand how math and science apply to their lives, the origins of the food they eat and how to make healthier food choices, Friday said. In-class lessons have included subjects like flower dissection (to learn plant parts and their functions), root propagation and water absorption. They actually decided what type of shed they needed to store supplies for the garden.

Currently, the young gardeners are growing cucumbers, Jalapeno peppers, tomatoes, yellow bell peppers, sunflowers, broccoli, peas, carrots, onions and more. Since they’re learning about organic gardening, they’ll be composting in a tumbling composter donated by a parent.

“We have plans to have a worm box and use the soil from the worms in the garden,” Johns said. “And we hope to have most of our water supply come from the rain barrels. For insect control, we’ve planted marigolds and, if needed, we are planning to use organic methods.”

There will be a multiclass celebration later this spring after the harvest, and at the end of the school year, the student gardeners will assess the project and make a presentation on how the teaching garden influenced their decisions on healthy food choices, Friday said. They will evaluate the first season’s harvest, graph the results and determine the need for crop rotation for next season.

Pam Johns’ 3rd-grade students stand behind one of the garden beds comprising the new teaching garden at Apollo Beach Elementary School. At center in the back row are teachers Michelle Friday and Johns, who researched and applied for the two grants that made the garden possible.

Apollo Beach Elementary School 5th-graders plant some young vegetable plants in the teaching garden at Apollo Beach Elementary School.

Young gardeners measure their plants and take note of their growth in the teaching garden at Apollo Beach Elementary School. They’ve used math and science skills to create the garden and are learning about where their food comes from, as well as about making healthier food choices.

From left, 3rd-graders Brenton Karges, Dylan Stewart and Jameer Coutinho participate in the initial planting of the teaching garden at Apollo Beach Elementary School.
More photos at

A 3rd-grader shows a pod of young peas harvested from a plant in the teaching garden at Apollo Beach Elementary School.

A student proudly points out a tomato already growing on one of the plants he installed Feb. 13 in the teaching garden at Apollo Beach Elementary School.

Hanna Sobolewski and Jamie Halsema team up to take notes on the progress of their plants in the teaching garden at Apollo Beach Elementary School. The garden was made possible by grants from the American Heart Association and American Institute of Chemical Engineers.

Fifth-graders Katie MacNeil, left, MacKenzie Brooks, Makayla Brooks and Abigail Murray gather for a photo at the teaching garden they’ve been tending.

Hanna Sobolewski and Hayden Schofield show the lists they’ve compiled of the various veggies and herbs they and their classmates are growing in the school’s new teaching garden.

A head of broccoli gets its start in the teaching garden at Apollo Beach Elementary School. Because the children are tending the garden they planted, they’ve become enthusiastically invested in its success.

This was the scene Feb.13 when the students began creating the teaching garden after teachers Pam Johns and Michelle Friday and several parent volunteers built the boxes and did the heavy lifting.