Garden Know-How Germinates at Conway Elementary School – Arkansas Catholic
Sue Strack volunteers to share their knowledge about plants and flowers at St. Joseph Elementary School
Aprille Hanson Spivey
Volunteer Sue Strack teaches gardening to four grade levels at St. Joseph’s Elementary School in Conway every two weeks in the spring and fall.
CONWAY – Putting on a straw hat with artificial flowers and vegetables on it, Sue Strack showed the sea of kindergarten students eager to ask about pests in the garden.
After the lesson, Elizabeth Rappold, 5, told Arkansas Catholic, “I learned that yellow vests can live under trees,” adding that her favorite flower is a rose.
But she was neutral, “I already know all about them.”
For the past three years, Strack, a parishioner in St. Joseph’s, has planted seeds of knowledge among students in Kindergarten to Grade 3, helping them grow in appreciation of creation.
“I want them to know it’s not me; it is not only the sun and the water, it is all because of God that these little seeds (grow).
“This little girl came to see me after class… (and said) ‘I love coming to my gardening class, I love learning about flowers and all that stuff,” said Strack, a volunteer.
The principal of St. Joseph’s Primary School, Courtney Pope, said she asked Strack to lead the class after the school’s garden needed rejuvenation. Several years ago the school received a grant to build a garden and the third grade teachers maintained it, but when the teachers left and retired, the garden “disappeared and never is. income, ”Pope said.
Because Strack was already a frequent library volunteer (his daughter Christy Pasierb is the school librarian) and helping with the plants around the school, it was a natural fit.
“She’s able to show these kids things about roots and soil that a lot of kids don’t even know about right now, growing their own fruits and vegetables and what a garden looks like,” Pope said. “It was just the perfect opportunity, on a small scale, to have organic and authentic learning.”
The class is taught in 15 minute increments for all four grade levels every two weeks in the spring and fall semesters. The course usually runs from August to October and April to May, depending on weather and growing seasons.
Lessons vary for students, from cutting flowers to learning how to root a hydrangea from cutting and memorizing gardening poems. One of the favorite lessons, “Bugs, Bugs, and Bugs More” helps children understand which insects help or harm plant life.
Strack, who spent 28 years as a paraprofessional for special education in public schools, retired in 2019 and began volunteering at St. Joseph’s Library.
Strack and her husband Ray, parishioners in St. Joseph since 1969, have several flower beds and gardens with a variety of vegetables and flowers on their property, which gives her many examples to share with students. She also maintains the school garden.
Strack credits his grandmother, who lived in Wisconsin, for his love of gardening.
“My grandmother had a huge garden of flowers and vegetables. The whole block was flowers and that was her flower bed, ”she said.
While teaching younger children had a certain learning curve, Strack said she found it best to keep the basic lessons. It is important for her to teach them about poisonous plants so that they can protect themselves, but also to impart to them the wisdom that food does not come from a tin can.
“I tell them about my own house, my own plants and my flower bed. It’s more interesting for them to hear a true story, ”she said. “They loved it when I was talking about zinnias and how to dry them and how to get the seeds out of them.”
She always tells students that she learns as she goes, always finding little tips as she researches her lessons.
” I appreciate it. It’s just a good thing with the kids, it’s a break from their day, ”Strack said. “It’s something they appreciate. If they only take a small piece off, I feel like they got something out of it.
Strack also makes sure that the students know that everything grows thanks to God. His flag hanging near the garden reads, “But only God… makes things grow. “(1 Corinthians 3: 7)
“I want them to know it’s not me; it’s not just the sun and the water, it’s all because of God that these little seeds (grow), ”she said.
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