By Matt de Simone
Contributing writer

Agroscience and art students from Central Academy Middle School (CAMS) have proved that gardening isn’t just for retirees and health-conscious eaters.

Courtney May, an art teacher at CAMS, and Jennifer Hannah, an agroscience teacher at CAMS, spent the last two academic years encouraging and assisting their students as they completed their “Backyard Challenge.” This challenge called for students from both classes to build a new landscape for an area outside of the ag and art classroom which needed sprucing up.

Jennifer Hannah (left), Courtney May and Central Academy Middle School students Emma Bobbitt, Jayden Kitt, and Kayla Riddle present the results of their “Backyard Challenge.”
Photo by Matt de Simone

May and Hannah had three exceptional students— Emma Bobbitt, Jaylen Kitt, and Kayla Riddle— accompany them in front of the Botetourt County School Board last Thursday to identify elements of the construction which met Botetourt County Public Schools’ six “C-Skills.”

Combining agroscience and art, students redesigned the area outside of their classroom from grass, a few plants, and a propane tank in order to create a beautiful garden. Bobbitt explained that the students learned how much “conviction” it takes when reconstructing a space to build something new. Trial and error are a part of any project big or small. This was no different when Bobbitt discovered that leveling soil for a koi pond isn’t something that can be figured out on the first take.

Creativity” and “community” were each important aspects of the build to Kitt, who worked alongside all the students in the ag and art classes to create landscaping designs. May and Hannah then combined these designs to fill the entire outdoor classroom. Students also painted personalized rocks to decorate the garden area. May informed the audience that the personalized rocks would remain a yearly project for the future students who enter the ag and art classes.

Kitt informed the School Board that “the great thing about the [outdoor classroom] is it doesn’t end when we leave CAMS. It’s for the classes behind us as well.”

The ag and art classes took a walking field trip to Botetourt Technical Education Center and were allowed access to a greenhouse to start the planting process which gave the plants a home in the new flower beds at CAMS. Riddle also explained that students “collaborated” with a local Lowe’s to ensure the plants that now make up their garden are all from seeds of locally grown flowers and vegetables. By the way, teachers, students, and visitors can find fresh, student-grown tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers featured on the salad bar at CAMS.

Riddle not only expressed her appreciation for the successful use of communication in their “Backyard Challenge,” but also admitted that very few of the students had experience building gardens and/or landscaping. The ag and art classes used “critical thinking” (that’s the sixth “C”) to measure a gravel pathway to and from their classrooms as well as the flower beds surrounding the outdoor classroom.

This past year, the students added a water pump for their koi pond, a lovely greenhouse, and new mulch, soil, and seeds to keep the area flourishing. The students placed a camera inside the house which allows students to monitor the mini-volary’s activity and last week, the students saw their first bird nesting in the area’s birdhouse.