DOWNEY - Nearly 60 students from Gallatin Elementary visited Downey High School on Dec. 16 to learn about biology through a unique cross-age experience with Greg Pittenger's botany class.With much of the construction completed at Downey, more effort has gone into beautification of the campus. The formerly unappreciated garden is now thriving with lush vegetation and a pond that serves as a home for fish and turtles, and another garden includes a greenhouse surrounded by newly-planted trees. "Downey is trying to establish lasting connections between elementary and high school gardens," said Pittenger, who has taught biology for several years. "With two gardens on our campus, there are plenty of chances for students to be inspired." Each child from Gallatin received personalized care from the botany students as Pittenger guided the large crowd, which included many parents and teachers. Due to the secluded locations of the gardens, the adults were just as excited as the children throughout the behind-the-scenes tour. "Anything life-like is a good experience," said Marvin Mires, one of the elementary school teachers. "This trip enhances the curriculum of our students in a way that textbooks cannot." Everyone was focused on Pittenger as he demonstrated how to plant seeds and feed the fish and turtles. His presentations of how science works in the real world seemed to spark interest in the minds of the children. "Any kind of cross-age activities encourage kids to learn from the actions of the older students," said Downey vice principal Anthony Zegarra. The field trip ended with a hands-on project that involved full participation from the students, parents and teachers. Gallatin students each received a cup of water along with a disk of compressed peat moss. Within minutes, the disks expanded into pots of soil, which were then filled with seeds and placed into trays in the greenhouse. The children watched this process with fascination as they learned about the key components of plant growth. "I believe this is a great experience not only for the young ones, but also for the high school students because they realize that they are role models," said Lidia Jimenez, a Gallatin parent. "The interaction between the elementary and high school students is an opportunity for everyone to learn. As a parent, I think this is very important." Now that Downey's gardens are flourishing, Pittenger said he hopes to help build sustainable gardens for local elementary schools.
********** Published: December 30, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 37