ENGLEWOOD — Students in Natalia Shea’s classes are growing a giant pumpkin and making compost for a garden beautification project at L.A. Ainger Middle School. It’s part of Ainger’s STEM program, which is funded by private organizations such as Gulf Coast Community Foundation to promote leadership skills and jobs in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.
Shea, a STEM teacher, is getting her students to use recycled products in their school garden. She’s also reaching out to the community for donations of items such as steppingstones, old purses and old leather work boots to make the project a reality. The community is responding.
“I started planning the project at the end of last year,” Shea said. “We’re still getting things in. It’s an ongoing process.”
About 80 percent of the items she needs for the project have arrived.
“I still have a lot of going out to the community, purchasing and begging,” She said. “We have a patio that’s not being used anymore. We used to have a cafeteria and the patio is kind of neglected in relation to its use to the students. One of the large projects they want to do is to take an area of the patio and they want to clean it up, make it nicer so it’s more inviting. More teachers might want to take their classes outside and into that space.”
Plans for the garden include growing a giant pumpkin and making compost.
“The pumpkin project is fun and challenging,” said Chris Szoke, an eighth-grade student. “I’ve never grown one before.”
Students must select plants that are Florida-friendly and they have to incorporate reusable or recyclable items.
Samantha DiPiazza, a seventh-grade student, said she’s enjoying the opportunity to change something at the school.
“I’m a very hands-on person, and that’s why I like my STEM class so much,” she said. “Getting the chance to be able to change our school and making it look pretty is something I would love to do more often.”
Samantha also likes the teamwork.
“I have learned that working together with your friends to do something like this is much easier than working alone,” she said.
Ana Beltran, a seventh- grade student, agrees.
“Working on the garden project has been a lot of fun,” Ana said. “I like it because we can work with teammates. I have learned how to do compost and how plants grow in different times of the year, which are really cool things.”
Shea credits Allison Turner, the Horticulture Program Assistant at Charlotte County Extension Service and Chris Lyons, Plant Operations Manager of Charlotte County with helping get the program started.
Shea said some of the items she needs include plywood, shovels, leaf rakes and old leather boots. Friends, parents, community organizations and private donors have pitched in.
To make a donation, go to https://www. gulfcoastgives.org/ projects/848. The school is located at 245 Cougar Way Rotonda West. Call 941-697-5800