BY MICAH FLEET
April showers bring May flowers, or at least that’s what those who run Waddell Elementary School’s Roots and Shoots program are hoping.
Roots and Shoots is based in a garden behind Waddell that more than 300 students and 40 volunteers care for. Director Molly Brown, a volunteer, said planting was supposed to begin two weeks ago, but it’s been delayed because of recent snowstorms.
“The kids love getting out here and hopefully we’ll start next week,” said Brown.
Brown says one of the many goals of the 25-year-old program is to teach the children where their food comes from.
“It’s amazing to me that these kids don’t know that carrots grow under the ground,” said Brown. “Some of them think the potatoes they get at Kroger grow in the basement.”
Brown has set up a separate section of the garden for each of the six grades at the elementary school. The students all grow something edible.
“The fourth graders have the colonial herb garden,” said Brown. “So they get to see how important herbs were in colonial days and now.”
Brown said she and her volunteers are very careful about what they allow students to taste, but emphasized that the students are the ones who do the growing.
“It really starts when they see that first seed sprout,” said Brown. “They think, ‘I’m going to take care of that plant, because I planted it.”
Brown has sectioned off a portion of the garden for each grade. Second graders manage an alphabet garden, where students plant a different flower for every letter of the alphabet.
Roots and Shoots relies on community volunteers (the roots) to help with the education of the students (the shoots). Volunteers range from age 20 to 83, but they all have one thing in common.
“We’re here because we love kids and we love gardening,” said Heather Marion, a 12-year veteran of the program.
Brown has tailored the garden and its lessons to help students with Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests. These are the standardized tests that all Virginia public schools must have their students take.
“The second graders have to learn about plant growth, so what better way than to get out and grow something,” said Brown.
Brown’s garden has won national recognition from the American Horticultural Society. Brown even sells manuals and lesson plans to schools all over the nation looking to start their own gardens.
“You know Michelle Obama has one at the White House,” Brown added with a smile.
Brown is always improving her program, even after 25 years. The reason? Brown says she’s providing a service, not only to the kids, but to her volunteers too.
“It’s hard to be connected to [kids] when you’re older,” said Brown. “Unless you have grandchildren, you don’t have that opportunity and that’s what I want people to have.”