“Okay, what’s the difference between a butterfly and a moth?” asked Natalie Cervantes, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service youth gardens coordinator for Bexar County, during her recent “Butterflies of the World” presentation to fourth-grade students at Wilshire Elementary School in San Antonio.
“Today I’m telling the kids about butterflies and insects and their role in the environment as pollinators,” Cervantes said. “We’re concentrating on native Texas butterflies because those are the ones they’re most likely to see.”
Cervantes was at Wilshire as part of AgriLife Extension’sYouth Gardens Program participation in the school’s Environmental Awareness Day activities. Through its Youth Gardens Program, the Bexar County office of AgriLife Extension, an educational outreach agency of the Texas A&M University System, provides education on gardening, horticulture and water conservation, as well as educational presentations to supplement and enrich classroom science objectives.
Youth Gardens Program education efforts are focused on introducing kids to nature and helping them develop a respect for the environment, said Lupe Landeros, AgriLife Extension director for Bexar County. Program efforts include Classroom Gardens Programs, the Children’s Vegetable Garden program in cooperation with the San Antonio Botanical Gardens, Terrarium Programs, educational camps and special events.
“We want young people to understand the importance of agriculture and being outdoors, as well as know the joy of growing their own food and learning about its nutritional value,” Landeros said. “The programs are primarily at elementary schools, but we also have some in middle and high schools. We offer teacher trainings and a Junior Master Gardener training.”
AgriLife Extension’s youth gardening activities create an environment that brings together parents, educators and the community to educate urban youth, she said. The Youth Gardens Program was made possible in large part due to the support of the San Antonio Livestock Exposition, Inc.
“I’ve been here for more than 23 years and have been involved in classroom gardening for most of that time,” said Donna Kadilis, a special education teacher at Wilshire and member of the Bexar County Master Gardener association, a volunteer horticulture program of AgriLife Extension. “I got my special education students involved in gardening as a way for them to relate to other students and to give them something they would enjoy doing.”
Wilshire now has a butterfly garden and several raised-bed gardens where students grow ornamental flowers and a variety of vegetables. This year, it received a Texas Certified Backyard Habitats designation for non-game and urban wildlife from a joint initiative of the National Wildlife Federation and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“Over the years, we’ve had thousands of kids go through our outdoor-gardening classroom,” Kadilis said. “We’ve grown pumpkins, melons, cucumbers, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, cabbage, potatoes and more. “The kids love to plant the seeds or seedlings and then cover them with soil and watch them grow. They also enjoy picking the vegetables when they’re ready, and they’re always anxious to eat them.”
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