TYLER, Texas — TARGET Academy students are trading their homework for farm work.
Recently the Tyler Independent School District's gifted and talented program — TARGET Academy — helped revive a farm-to-table experience at Camp Tyler that had gone dormant for nearly a decade.
The Tyler Morning Telegraph (http://bit.ly/2oYFDsh ) reports teacher Emily Keane created a school garden for her students when she taught fifth grade and did not want it to wither when she transferred to third grade this past summer.
As the school year began, Keane started making calls. She was determined to incorporate the garden and its lessons into her curriculum. Keane gets one day each week with each class and tries to make the most of it.
"They're learning where food comes from, the science behind gardening and cooking and even bartering," she said. "We're taking that and putting it in a real world setting."
Keane said getting students out of the classroom also helps with retention.
"When they are applying the skills they learn in the classroom in a hands-on way, it's more real," she said. "They're internalizing it, kind of solidifying it in their mind."
Camp Tyler Program Director Jamee Puccio was excited to revitalize the garden at Camp Tyler's farm. She was surprised the equipment and fencing were in such great shape after sitting for so long.
Puccio and other Camp Tyler employees spent the day with students helping them learn skills ranging from harvesting crops such as onions to tending to animals and then bartering with supermarkets to sell their product and use the money to shop.
She said the program was possible with the help of local businesses such as Brookshire Grocery Co., Natural Grocers and Roast Social Kitchen.
Roast owner Jen Pencis volunteered to help the students figure out what they could cook with their home-grown ingredients.
Nine-year-old Abigail Liedtke's favorite part of the experience was interacting with the farm animals.
"I like milking the goats," she said. "It feels weird, but it's fun."
Abigail also has been enthusiastic about the crops in the school's garden. Her favorite so far has been growing her own jalapenos.
Keane said many of her students began growing their own crops at home and even surprising their parents with a willingness to try new food.
"It's really exciting," she said. "I think it's such a beneficial program, and the kids are getting great experience."
For Keane, the best part of the program has come when students get back to class and excitedly tell her about what they enjoyed.
"When we get back to class, all the kids tell me what they learn and they all have these light bulb moments," she said.
Keane said a grant from the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and support from Brookshire's will help the school garden grow.
Keane and Puccio are excited to see how the program will continue to blossom as they look toward the second year of their new partnership.