Penn State Berks students and Glenside elementary school children build a garden

READING, Pa. -- The seeds of the idea were sown in the form of a class assignment: Penn State Berks student teachers were asked to develop a project that they could give their elementary school students to make a difference in their school. Senior childhood and early elementary education majors Melissa Sauer and April Moore put their heads together and the idea of creating a garden at Glenside Elementary School took root.

But Sauer and Moore didn’t stop there. They were so excited that they approached their teacher, Jessica Schocker, assistant professor of social studies education and women's studies, about making their Social Studies Methods class project a reality. Both Sauer and Moore were already student teaching at Glenside and were more than willing to volunteer their time and talent to see the project through.

Schocker approached Melissa Fisher, principal of Glenside Elementary School and Penn State alumna, who enthusiastically agreed to the garden project.

However, the one thing that Sauer and Moore did not have was expertise in agriculture. This is where Mahsa Kazempour, assistant professor of science education, and her biology class got involved.

Kazempour’s biology students are supporting the garden project as part of their service learning. Approximately 15 students have been working with Sauer and Moore helping with the garden while learning about environmental education.

In addition, Penn State Berks sophomore agricultural science major Alex Burghardt is working on this project as Schocker’s student in educational psychology, as an honors option. Schocker put Burghardt in touch with Sauer and Moore so he could help to meet his honors requirements through service-based research while advising what flowers and vegetables to plant in the garden, including a golden rain tree.

Schocker also applied for and received funding from the college’s Beaver Community Service Endowment to cover the cost of materials and supplies for the garden project.

Soon, the project took on a life of its own as more students – and parents – wanted to get involved. Senior childhood and early elementary education majors Emily Pufnock and Bethany Connors, student teachers at Glenside, joined the project with their students.

The kindergarten students painted stones, first-graders painted birdhouses, and third-graders painted tires and planted seeds, beans and flowers.

How has this project benefitted the students of Glenside Elementary School? According to Sauer, “Some of the shyest, most withdrawn students are the most involved in the garden. It’s meaningful for the students to have something to do, that they care about and are engaged with."

After school and during some weekends, weather permitting, the elementary school children, parents, student teachers, Schocker and Fisher can be found working on the garden project. Future gardening dates include April 23, 28 and 30, from 3:15 to 4:15 p.m., and Saturday, April 26, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

All their hard work will culminate in a garden party for the elementary school children and their parents, 2-4 p.m. Saturday, May 3. The rain date is 12-2 p.m. Sunday, May 11.

Last Updated April 25, 2014