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4-H partnership brings gardening classes to elementary schools

Community partners are an essential factor in delivering quality programming through your local Colorado State University Extension Office.

As educators, we strive to build solid relationships with other organizations that share a common mission and goals. This can be seen through the beneficial partnership between La Plata County 4-H Youth Development and The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado.

Since the fall of 2016, our organizations have collaborated to implement the Junior Master Gardener program. Currently, we offer classes for second-graders in six Durango School District 9-R elementary schools. The partnership works by allowing both of us to fulfill our goals of teaching school-based education enrichment activities and promoting healthy communities.

The Junior Master Gardener program was established by the Extension Office based at Texas A&M University. It has grown to become a highly recognized international curriculum for youth educators. The curriculum provides hands-on, researched-based activities to inspire youths about gardening and the environment.

The curriculum is flexible enough for us to develop lessons to be environmentally and culturally relevant to the American Southwest. In addition, we are thrilled to work with school teachers on adding STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education components into the lessons.

At many of these schools, we have built weather stations for classes to be involved in a citizen science project. The weather stations consist of a thermometer and rain gauge. Students have been taught and instructed to take daily measurements of temperature and precipitation. We are collecting this data to develop graphs to illustrate weather and climate information for future classes. It should be interesting to compare the different micro-climates at schools around the area.

The partnership of 4-H and The Garden Project is elevated by our commitments to the national AmeriCorps program. AmeriCorps is a voluntary public service program that allows adults to help communities meet specific needs. As a past AmeriCorps and Peace Corps member, I believe strongly in contributing to society in meaningful ways.

The Junior Master Gardener classes couldn’t run without AmeriCorps members. Currently, Matt Bristol is instructing classes. Last year, AmeriCorps members Marissa Hunt and Will Turnipseed were leading classes. We thank them for their dedicated service.

In addition, a big thanks to Leah Johnson, school garden education program manager with The Garden Project, for doing a fantastic job co-leading the classes.

I would also like to recognize Sandhya Tillotson, Garden Project executive director, for her valuable support of our partnership. We have established a strong infrastructure and look forward to possibly expanding to other area schools in the future.

Sandhya has done a tremendous job with The Garden Project over the last five years. She will be moving on from her position, and the organization is looking for a new director. If you are interested in applying, see the job announcement at https://bit.ly/2PfYMD7.

A great benefit will be partnering with the CSU Extension Office and the 4-H Youth Development program.

Greg Felsen is the La Plata County 4-H youth development agent. Reach him at gregory.felsen@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6463.