By Rachel Christian
Hydroponic gardening equipment and flowerbeds laid dormant for years at Chestnut Elementary School, a Title I STEM magnet school in southwest Osceola County.
Everyone agreed the space should be utilized, but just as the vegetables that would soon take root there, it was all about harvesting that potential.
Last year, a visit by school district officials motivated faculty members to sit down and figure out
the best way to use the outdoor educational resources.
“We knew we were lucky to already have these things in place here,” said Audie Confesor, the school’s principal. “It was just a matter of investing some time to get it back on its feet.”
Confesor tasked Alicia Concepcion, the school’s gifted teacher, with developing a program.
Now, students at the Poinciana elementary school are sowing the fruits of their labor for a good cause – and learning some important lessons along the way.
The educator crafted lesson plans over the summer that integrated key objectives like engineering, entrepreneurship and science.
Concepcion said she also wanted her students to learn about giving back to the community through the project.
“That’s why we decided to donate all the food raised in the garden to local food pantries and soup kitchens,” she said. “It was a way to show the kids, hey what you’re doing here is helping feed people in need.”
Since the garden began in September, Chestnut Elementary students have donated a cornucopia of produce to Miracle Temple Ministries, a nearby church in Poinciana with a soup kitchen mission.
Chestnut Elementary is a Title I school, meaning a majority of its students fall below the poverty line. So, giving back to Miracle Temple has been a lesson that hits close to home for some of the children, Concepcion said.
“Some of them have friends or family that have gone there before for help,” she said. “Others have even been there themselves.”
The elementary school is also a magnet for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Both Confesor and Concepcion said the garden’s rich soil is also acting as a rich hands-on teaching tool for the over 40 third, fourth and fifth grade gifted students in the program.
“They love being outside and getting to see their work pay off,” Concepcion said. “They’re learning so much about things like agricultural engineering, botany and business, but it doesn’t feel that way for them, they enjoy it so much.”
The kids work on the garden about twice a week. Concepcion uses fundraisers to help pay for organic plant food and other materials used to keep the garden healthy and thriving.
Crops are harvested on a staggered schedule, so that the garden is never left completely barren. When a hard freeze struck last month, the garden suffered some losses, but hearty root varieties like beets and radishes persevered. Just a few weeks later, the garden had already regained its pre-freeze levels.
On Friday, the Chestnut Elementary garden received a special visit from district officials, including Chief of Staff Scott Fritz. The administrator took a tour through the bean sprout, budding herbs and fresh greens alongside Concepcion and her army of small gardeners.
“I am very happy with what they have done here,” said Fritz, who had suggested the school utilize the plot last year. “These are the things we want to see more of.”
Fritz went on to say that he would like to see more community gardens like this at other Osceola County elementary schools.
“The kids love it and they’re learning so much in the process,” he said. “This is the kind of thing we are always happy to support.”