by James Coulter
Most students at Edward W. Bok North Academy learn the three R’s: reading, writing, and arithmetic. Their newest teacher hopes to also teach them the three W’s: watering, weeding, and wheelbarrowing.
Jennifer Williams is the school’s newest teacher in its agricultural program. She doesn’t simply want to teach them inside the classroom from behind desks. She wants to take them into the great outdoors to get their hands down and dirty in the soil.
Williams plans on constructing an outdoor learning lab. The facility will consist of benches by the school gardens with an area for students to perform vegetable and soil testing, egg dissections, and several other outdoor projects and activities.
Currently, she will be bringing in several purebred chickens and rabbits from her old school. She also plans on planting new gardens with hydrostackers, raised beds, and butterfly/pollinator gardens that her students and the rest of the school can utilize.
As the school does not currently have a large budget for its agriculture program, Williams will be seeking grants and sponsorships to obtain the material and items she needs for her outdoor lab. Such items she is in most need of include rakes, shovels, mulch, and animal food.
Bok North Academy started its agricultural program several years ago. However, its former teacher had to step down in the middle of the year due to family matters. Her absence left the program struggling, and Williams has since been hired to revitalize it.
“We will create an outdoor classroom where they can learn and do projects outside, so they will not be stuck in the classroom all day,” she said. “[The students] they are all excited to do this, the outdoor learning lab will allow more hands-on projects and activities to help create a connection between their books and their actual projects. So they are very excited about that, they want to help do it, but we need to have the funds to do it.”
Currently, their biggest challenge is equipment. Williams will need to build her new outdoor learning lab from scratch, and she will need to obtain equipment and other items to facilitate it. “Rakes are $20 a piece, so if I get a class set of 20 rakes, that is 400 dollars off the bat. Dirt, mulch, tools … there is a lot we need.”
Her class will partner with several local businesses for community service projects. For example, last weekend, they visited the DARN Plant Company to help facilitate a workshop about butterflies and pollination. They also plan on visiting the Lake Wales Care Center to create holiday baskets and assist with canned and food drives. They will also aid the City of Lake Wales with its beautification project.
“We want to be out in the community and help everybody and let everybody know that agriculture is not just cows and plows, we have so much more than the students are capable of doing and want to do,” Williams said.
Williams hopes that her upcoming outdoor lab will allow children to take what they learn from their books and put it into action by getting their hands dirty in the soil. She also wants to inform them about the role that agriculture has in their daily life. Most importantly, she wants them to use the skills they learned to help their local community.
“Lake Wales is a wonderful city that takes care of everybody and we want to be a part of that and to be a part of the positive impact,” she said. “I want us to have a place in the community. I want my students to realize there is a connection between helping their community and agriculture. That is part of our IB concept, how we impact the whole world, not just the whole community.”