Cornell Cooperative Partners with MJT for Hands-On Projects

A partnership between the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and Mary J. Tanner Elementary School is empowering the district’s youngest students to participate in hands-on learning activities.

Agriculture and Food Systems Educator Linda Law routinely visits classrooms at Mary J. Tanner, bringing a wealth of agricultural experience and a long list of activities to help enrich the students’ traditional classroom education. She calls the partnership integral when it comes to developing an understanding of agricultural programs and experiencing education outside of traditional classroom activities.

“The students have so much fun with the programs we’ve built for each grade level from UPK to fourth grade,” said Ms. Law. “More importantly, they’re being taught science through relatable, real-life experiences.”

The yearlong program is broken up into three sections. In the fall, students focus on activities centered around pumpkins and apples. The winter months introduce each grade level to relationships with trees and fiber. Once spring arrives, students focus on planting and preparing their garden for the year ahead. While the themes for each season are explored in each grade level, Ms. Law prepares activities for students in each grade level to help them experience something different every year.

“We’re constantly working both at CCE and with the teachers at Mary J. Tanner to create new activities the students can participate in,” said Ms. Law. “Lessons that bring out the curiosity in our students are the ones we feel best about.”

Those lessons go hand-in-hand with CCE’s core concept of intertwining food and nutritional education into their lesson plans with students. Every lesson has green, environmentally-friendly themes worked into them. For example, during their tree and fibers lessons, students were able to participate in a maple syrup tasting experiment. At the end of the experiment, students were asked to come up with a practical use for the plastic cups to avoid throwing them out. Students decided to use the cups as miniature plant pots.

Ms. Law believes constructing the curriculum in this fashion will help students better appreciate their role in the world around them.

“I firmly believe that we are all stewards of the Earth and try to weave that message into the programming I am responsible for at CCE,” said Ms. Law. “The earlier we can share ideas and messages of community and sustainability with our youngest students, the more prepared they will be for the real world.”

One of the ongoing projects Ms. Law is most excited about is the school gardens. Similar to projects in the Whitehall, Greenwich, and Fort Ann school districts, the Cornell Cooperative Extension brought in a raised bed garden that the school’s custodial staff was able to build in order to allow students the opportunity to plant their own vegetables and flowers in.

The garden became so popular that Mary J. Tanner’s custodial staff built additional raised bed gardens to involve more students. Sticking to the principles CCE teaches, the new gardens were created using recycled playground equipment. So far, the second and third graders have planted leaf lettuce, marigolds, cucumbers, zucchini, yellow squash, cherries, grape tomatoes, sunflowers, and green beans.

“There’s so much interest in the gardening project that we’re able to host a summer program with students at the school during the break. Students who participate come to Mary J. Tanner and Granville Elementary once a week to tend to the gardens and help maintain them for the entire school ahead of the new school year.”

Ms. Law’s program is currently only offered in Washington County school districts. Granville is one of four districts to have a garden, but every district in the county participates in the agriculture and food systems programs offered by CCE. That includes Granville, Greenwich, Fort Ann, Whitehall, Cambridge, Salem, Argyle, Hartford, and Hudson Falls.