By Merrie Decker, Master Gardener
Bear Branch Elementary School, located in Magnolia ISD, sponsors two Junior Master Gardening (JMG) clubs on the campus. 4th and 5th graders meet every Monday morning at 7:30 to engage in a myriad of educational activities from maintaining beds of native plants, to growing their own vegetables from seed in the school’s greenhouse, to planting, weeding and growing host/nectar plants for the school’s Butterflies and Blooms Garden. The group also participates in programs and presentations provided by Montgomery County Master Gardeners. Carla Allen and Sue Buchholz, teachers at Bear Branch, sponsor the groups. They work with Master Gardener, Merrie Decker, to plan activities that teach the children various aspects of gardening. BBES Parents and Master Gardeners have teamed with the campus educators for the past 5 years to contribute to the success of the JMG program. Kindergarten classes at Bear Branch comprise the second group of gardeners. These children participate in monthly presentations, garden in the greenhouse and plant vegetables in raised beds.
Kindergarten classes at Bear Branch comprise the second group of gardeners. These children participate in monthly presentations, garden in the greenhouse and plant vegetables in raised beds.
The Junior Master Gardening Program is an extension of Texas A&M Agrilife and part of the Master Gardener Association. It is designed to “engage children in novel, hands-on group and individual learning experiences that provide a love of gardening, develop an appreciation for the environment and cultivate the mind.” (JMGkids.org)
The gardening program at Bear Branch began in 2004 with an enthusiastic principal who had a passion for gardening and for enriching students’ lives through nature. Susan Ward presented the ideas of a classroom-sized greenhouse and of a garden that all teachers could utilize to the staff, PTO and Parent Communication Committee. With input and support from all groups, the projects began.
Meanwhile, what was once an eyesore that collected debris on the east side of the building evolved into a tranquil garden area for contemplation, inspiration, and education. It later became home to a wind chime memorial dedicated to a beloved music educator. Now, on a daily basis, hundreds of Bear Branch students and visitors pass the Butterfly Garden and receive a visual reminder of Mother Nature’s changes.
Master Gardeners from Montgomery County assisted with the garden’s design and supplied information regarding native plants. The Montgomery County Beautification Association, Home Depot, Boy Scouts and Girl Scout troops provided plants, trellises, benches and arbors while kindergarteners decorated stepping stones.
The main purpose of maintaining a butterfly garden is to provide nectar and host plants for various butterflies. Monarchs will lay eggs only on the milkweed plant and milkweed plants are declining due to the widespread use of herbicides on crops, pastures, and roadsides.
The Monarch Waystation Program is part of Monarch Watch, a non-profit, educational outreach based at the University of Kansas whose purpose is to “Create, Conserve, and Protect Monarch Habitats.” The application process requires many hours of dedication by teachers, students, parents and Master Gardeners. In order to obtain Monarch Waystation Certification, certain criteria must be met. Documentation of milkweed, aswell as a variety of other nectar plants, must be submitted. Bear Branch is grateful to all of the individuals, groups, and businesses who have contributed to the success of their conservation project.
Junior Master Gardening programs can be successful at school when teachers and administrators commit with Master Gardeners, families and community volunteers to make a difference in the environment.
Besides enabling learning experiences not possible indoors, JMG expands students’ knowledge of career options, teaches responsibility and hard work, and presents occasions for decision-making, problem-solving, teamwork, and creativity. What an opportunity for our childrento see the volunteer spirit and service to others in action!