Medical students help young hands plant gardens filled with lessons [VIDEO]

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A Children’s Garden of Verses came to life earlier this month when USF medical students helped young students at the USF Patel Partnership Elementary School plant Earth Box gardens filled with edible delights.

USF Medical students Mia Djulbegovic, Tom Fowler (and April Pearson in background) with students and one of their completed gardens.

 The project, coordinated by Morsani College of Medicine students and co-sponsored by the USF student chapter of the American Medical Association, The Wellness Council, and the Student Physicians for Social Responsibility, provided a tangible product for the content the kindergartners, first- and second-graders are learning in the classroom, said Alexandra Printz, a second-year medical student who helped organize the event and a parent of one of the first graders at USF Patel Partnership Elementary.

“They have been studying nutrition, making healthy choices, and the origin of our food, so these gardens help bring that content to life for them,” Printz said. “And conversations on these same topics could likely continue long after this morning’s work.”

Sean Spence guides a group of students.

 The morning-long project included lots of helping hands and donated materials from Home Depot and Bonnie Plants, along with critical advice from experts at the USF Botanical Garden.

Medical students Sean Spence (standing), Trisha Dinh, Elizabeth Ciaravine, and Danya Loutfi prepare the take-home plants.

 Large containers, usually associated with storage, were filled with soil and lined up under shade trees. Small gloved hands held trowels to carefully pry young plants out from their small crates and plant them in the prepared containers, which are actually two containers: a smaller one nested in a larger one. This set-up allows for a water reservoir in the bottom container that continually nourishes the plants and needs little maintenance, providing a sustainable, hydroponic planter.

First-grader Ari Printz prepares to build a garden.

 “I have a garden at home,” one first grader announced as she waited for her turn to plant some collards, one of the more popular choices made by the young students for their planters.

Other plants included peas, red lettuce, Bibb lettuce, broccoli, crookneck squash, arugula lettuce, cabbage, jalapeno, green bell pepper, and string beans.

 The medical students took the lead for the project, relieving the teachers from adding more to their already full plates.

“We didn’t’ want to burden the teachers at all with this project so no teacher had to do anything other than bring their class to the playground,” Printz said. “And the project helped the teachers to have conversations with their students about nutrition and making healthy choices.”

“The project has opened up a whole new world for the students,” said Patricia Shields, a first-grade teacher at USF Patel Partnership Elementary. “On a daily basis they are eager and enthusiastic to see the changes the plants are making. We are all so very grateful to have had the USF medical students take such a great lead of this project.”

First-year med student Danya Loutfi takes the lead for prepping the take-home plants with Alexandra Printz (standing).

 The project also benefitted the medical students aiming to serve the community, said Sean Spence, a second-year medical student who helped organize the day.

“Our aim was to identify a need and to have an impact, and this project was perfect for that,” Spence said. “From idea and concept to planning and grant writing to going to the school and getting our own hands dirty, this project was a great success. And our work will continue, as they build the project into their health and science curriculum, we will continue to volunteer.”

In addition to the planting supplies, Home Depot also donated another hands-on project for the young students: a mini whiteboard. Home Depot volunteers, medical students, and even the school principal, Keith Laycock, guided the students along as they built the whiteboard using hammers, brads, and screwdrivers.

Patel Elementary Principal Keith Laycock guides a student building her white board.

 The container gardens remain at the school so that the students can track their growth, keep them watered, watch for insects and stake the climbing green beans. As a prize for their hard work on this planting day, each student was able to take home a single plant of their choice, a gesture that bridged their project from school to home and continues the conversation about healthy choices.

“The idea is to keep them thinking about making healthy choices throughout their day,” Printz said. “And the hope is that healthy choices will become second nature to them.”