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Normandy School continues Obama legacy with garden projects with a STEM twist

Like the nation’s former First Lady Michelle Obama, teachers at Barack Obama Elementary School are using gardening to teach students about health, math, and science.

Working under the guidance of teachers and Monsanto volunteers, students at Obama Elementary recently took to the school grounds to prep planting beds for fall veggies and greens native to Missouri. The volunteers were participants in the Monsanto Gives Back Volunteer event held in partnership with Gateway Greening.

The event was also an opportunity for Obama Elementary teachers to incorporate valuable lessons on STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) in a fun activity. The teachers were inspired by their participation in the STEMpact Teacher Quality (STEM TQ) Institute.

“In STEM TQ, we were taught to combine curricula into one, versus having them segregated,” said Stephanie Fomera, a fourth-grade teacher at Barack Obama Elementary. “Cross-curricular instruction is one of our biggest foci in the Normandy Schools Collaborative.”

The STEMpact Teacher Quality Institute at Washington University in St. Louis is STEMpact’s flagship teacher training program. STEMpact is focused on closing the achievement gap for students in STEM through innovative professional development programs.

The 100-hour, year-long program focuses on “STEMitizing” everyday teaching methods. It’s available to teachers, teacher leaders, instructional coaches, coordinators in grades K-8 who teach, support, or integrate STEM.

“STEM can be implemented easily into our lessons through gardening,” said Fomera who obtained her STEM certification after participating in the STEM TQ last year.

Gateway Greening supports over 60 In-Network Youth Gardens including Barack Obama Elementary and soon, Normandy’s Jefferson Elementary, as well as other schools throughout St. Louis city and county. The nonprofit educates and empowers people to strengthen their communities through gardening and urban agriculture. Obama Elementary first partnered with Gateway Greening in 2011 after installing a garden at the school.

“We’re improving life-science skills and scores, putting science into practice, improving access to healthy and fresh foods,” said Lucy Herleth, school program manager at Gateway Greening.

The nonprofit offers a variety of resources for In-Network Youth Gardens like seedlings, monthly educator workshops, site visits, and access to volunteers. Obama Elementary teachers Deanne Ward and Cardelia Brand, who is also a Gateway Greening Youth Garden Leader, are establishing a garden club at the school.  

“The club will allow students to interact with the soil and discover where their food comes from,” Ward said. “They see a tomato in the grocery store, but they don’t know that they can actually grow it.”

Through Gateway Greening, Ward participated in an educator workshop on how to help students start their own gardens. Paul Taylor, a fourth-grade student at Obama Elementary, says it is important for students to learn how to grow their own food.

“Because sometimes you aren’t going to have enough money to always go to store and buy something,” said Paul as he turned over soil in a planting bed.

Ward agrees with Formera that gardening improves student access to healthier foods and helps students make STEM connections.

“They use math to measure out grids for planting beds,” Ward explained. “Science helps to discern plants that grow best in sunlight or shade. They connect it to social studies when where we’re talking about plants native to Missouri.”

It’s also connected to English Language Arts. Fomera said she will incorporate reading and writing about gardening in her lessons when teaching about plant life cycles.

CAPTION: Deanne Ward, a teacher at Barack Obama Elementary School, shows a garden worm to third grade students (from left): Jamorie Dickerson, Harmoni Morton, Atlas Harrington, and DeMarion Cain.