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Bear River garden program helps students grow
Eighth-grader Nate Jones couldn't keep the plants in his bedroom from dying.
He had his favorites — bonsai trees, cactuses and a mix of other succulents — but struggled to maintain them. That is, until Nate took Shelli Stinson's agriculture class.
"I've learned a lot," Nate said. "My plants aren't dying anymore."
The agriculture class at Bear River Middle School in Wheatland recently received a $500 grant to aid in greenhouse improvements, floral upgrades and transportation expenses. The class has installed a new irrigation system and built plant boxes for the outdoor garden in the last few months, thanks to a Literacy for Life Grant from the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom.
"I think it will make that area look a lot nicer than just dirt and grass," Nate said.
Stinson started the "Helping Us Grow By Building Strong Roots" program about 10 years ago to educate students about agriculture and excite interest in the environment, she said.
The program is effective because it reaches dozens of students while using hands-on activities at a very young age, she said.
For example, one feature of the program consists of using her eighth-grade students to teach kindergartners and preschoolers from nearby schools. Throughout the year, the younger kids get bussed to Bear River to visit the garden and learn from the older ag students.
With many of the kindergartners and preschoolers now older, Stinson said she is starting to see students with a piqued interest in agriculture because they visited the greenhouse when they were younger.
But older students are showing results as well, she said. Eighth-graders take on a mentoring role in the program, which can help them overcome obstacles.
"They need that extra confidence and motivation," Stinson said. "They believe that they can do something great."
By the end of the school year, nearly one-third of her students' time is spent helping younger kids, she said.
Ag student Zac Thompson, 13, said he enjoys helping the younger students and is excited about the garden's newest improvements.
"I think these new boxes are going to help a lot because some of the plants are starting to die," he said, noting that the containers will provide extra space for plant growth.
This is Zac's first year in the ag program, he said, but already it's one of his favorite classes.
Classmate Ceasar Salas, 13, said he agrees.
Ceasar lives on a ranch in Smartsville. He helped dig the garden's irrigation trench by hand and enjoys getting the preschool kids involved.
"It's a great class," he said. "I wish we had more kids in it."