Some schools are teaching kids in nature’s classroom and the students are flourishing. There’s an aura of happiness around Francesca Alexander smiled as she nestles tomato plant into the ground. She has dreams about what these little plants will become.

Nature's ClassroomIn a few weeks, the fourth-grader planned to return to the garden at Summerfield Elementary School and pluck a juicy, red tomato off the vine and add it to her salad at lunch.

Francesca and the other students at Summerfield spent Thursday morning planting vegetables in their new garden. The “teaching garden” is thanks to a $15,000 grant from the American Heart Association via Citigroup.

The donation covers everything from growing boxes to the soil to the plants.

Principal Derrick McLaughlin jumped at the chance to establish a teaching garden at the school. Not only does the garden show the children where we get our food and teach the importance of eating vegetables, but the project also spills into the classroom, McLaughlin said.

All of the 800-plus students at Summerfield, a K-5 school, are involved in the teaching garden.

“It’s that real-world education,” McLaughlin said. “They’ll see the life cycle of a plant. They’ll read about plants.”

The students built the entire garden this school year. They put the growing boxes together and hauled soil, bucket after bucket. On Thursday, they got to plant the vegetables. Later, the kids will harvest their goodies. And, the finale will be “tasting day.”

Francesca, 9, said she is happy to participate in all the activities.

“It’s fun,” she said.

Kerry Boldish, a spokesman for the American Heart Association, said Citigroup provided the funds for the teaching garden at Summerfield. The association partners with businesses, such as Citigroup, to get schools money for heart-healthy projects, Boldish said.

“They’re the backbone that makes this program go,” he said.

Mary Garner had dirt on her hands, dirt covering her apron and a few flecks of dirt on her face.

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