PONTIAC - Students at Herrington Elementary in Pontiac like to get their hands dirty -- and no one's telling them not to, not even their teachers. That's because the kids are actually hard at work in the school garden. It's really more like an outdoor classroom, and the kids have named it The Garden of Life.
"They understand that it supports their life. We've been doing this for four years and they really have become part of the process of from seed, to a plant, and harvest. They've never had that experience before," says teacher and garden coordinator Ailene Steinborn-Love. She got the idea for the garden four years ago, and thought it would be a great way to engage the students in first-hand learning.
The garden was originally too far away from the school, making it too hard to get water for the plants. So they built a new garden closer to the school thanks to a grant from PPG. The students themselves are the ones who do the planting, the watering and the harvesting.
"The first time we harvested radishes they were like, 'Oh my gosh, what is this?' We had buckets of water and we dumped it in water and they ate it right then and they were just like, 'We love it!'" says Steinborn-Love. "And I'm like, 'This is a lot better than those spicy chips you eat, and this is good for you!'"
Students are learning important lessons about nutrition and healthy eating, and they take those lessons home to share with their families. They also take some of the vegetables home and then write about how their family cooked or prepared them.
All the teachers use the garden in their lesson plans, whether it's for math, science or English. But some of the most important lessons go way beyond what the students might learn in a classroom.
"Not only academics go up, student achievement goes up - but their self-esteem, their sense of purpose, of self-worth," says Steinborn-Love.
You can watch FOX 2's Sherry Margolis's report in the video player above to hear from the students how they enjoy the garden.
The staff hopes to eventually set up a farmer's market, so students can learn about entrepreneurship. They also hope to support the school lunch program, and form a partnership with Forgotten Harvest so students can learn about giving back to the community.