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Elementary schools get funding to keep garden towers

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A class of kindergarten students cheered, laughed and shouted answers to questions about their garden tower Friday afternoon at West Boulevard Elementary School.

“We learn things to make plants grow!” one student shouted when asked about their garden towers.

“It has special lights!” another answered.

The Columbia Public Schools Foundation presented a $2,000 check to Columbia Public Schools to buy seeds, nutrients and other items to keep these 21 garden towers going for another year.

The foundation in October 2016 provided one garden tower to each of the 21 CPS elementary schools through an $18,270 grant. Since then, these aeroponic gardens have been used to teach students about the environment, pollination, plants and more.

“It affects the children in all the schools, so it’s thousands of children who benefit from seeing these things grow and they might not have the opportunity any other way,” said Lynn Barnett, president of the Columbia Public Schools Foundation.

The foundation partnered with the Lucky’s Bags for Change Program, which allows customers who bring in their own bags to take home their groceries to donate 10 cents to a cause of their choice. That raised $900 on its own and Lucky’s matched the total. The foundation donated $200 to bring the number to $2,000.

The garden towers are used for different lessons in different grades. Fourth-graders learn about pollination by planting tomatoes. The tomato plant will grow very tall but not produce any tomatoes because there is no pollination. So, the students take cotton swabs and pollinate the plants by hand.

“We’ve talked about pollination forever but they’ve never actually gotten to pollinate plants,” CPS Science Coordinator Mike Szydlowski said. “They’ll see their plant actually gets to start food because they were the pollinator.”

These towers help the students learn no matter what the weather is outside, Szydlowski said. The gardens use 95 percent less water than plants growing outside and the plants grow three times more quickly and 30 percent larger than those in traditional gardens, he said.

“I’m really big on curiosity and wonderment and we just want to put things in buildings that the kids can walk by and wonder about and just see,” Szydlowski said. “We want to do not just the gardens but all kinds of things that are not ordinary.”

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