Something special is being cultivated in Middle School. Recently, sixth graders in Stacy Hill’s science class worked with special guests from the LSU Ag Center Master Gardeners program to propagate succulents. As you might expect in a science class, students learned about soil ratios and growth requirements, such as light and water needs. As the plants grow, students will now make observations and track their progress. While this may seem like a typical science lesson, this is just the beginning.
Students and their little succulents have actually embarked on a service learning journey to promote literacy and reading. Middle School English teacher and project organizer Martha Guarisco says students researched illiteracy and book deserts last year, which inspired them to take action. That action is now underway as the little succulents begin to grow and flourish under the students’ watchful eyes. This service learning journey will eventually encompass science, English, social studies and math before it is complete.
Students began this journey in science class to give their little buds time to grow. Later this school year, students will host a plant sale with funds generated benefiting area organizations such as Lines 4 Lines and others who promote reading among area youth. Guarisco says Episcopal students and teachers will use funds generated from the sale to purchase books especially for each group. She says this will allow project participants to purchase books that personally resonate with recipients, which is a critical component of sparking a child’s interest in reading. “Seeing yourself in a book connects you with that book,” says Guarisco, who says this fosters a love of reading that is beneficial for developing brains and bodies.
As the succulents expand their footprint, the service learning project will also expand its reach, including math, social studies and English. While Hill leads students in scientific observations, math teacher Nancy Callaway is leading discussions on the cost of growing succulents, pricing estimates and the number of books that can be purchased with the funds generated. In Virginia Day’s social studies classes, students have studied food deserts, similar to how they studied book deserts in English class. As the plant sale approaches, students will also design logos and promotional materials.
Middle School Division Head Lucy Smith says such teamwork and collaboration among faculty and staff makes an Episcopal lesson even more meaningful. “It always is exciting for me to see the grade-level teams of middle school teachers collaborating to plan a cross-curricular project that engages our students in real-world problem solving. Making connections across the academic disciplines is engaging and motivating for students. They feel terrific when they know that their hard work and learning makes a difference for others,” she says. “I look forward to seeing the students' enthusiasm grow as the project work proceeds!”
The succulent project has numerous components, but the lesson is quite simple. “I want students to appreciate their own literacy as a lifelong skill,” says Guarisco. She also wants students to understand the huge advantage that literacy provides and the complexity of illiteracy. Students will continue to explore these concepts as the little succulents grow. Look for more on the project this spring as the plant sale approaches.