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Niagara Academy Environmental Science Class Reaps Benefits of Their Harvest

Press Release December 20, 2016

For Science teacher Dan LaBernardo it all started a few years ago when his aide, Karen Boyd, brought in some cherry tomato seeds for his homeroom students. “She thought that it would give the kids something to do when they were caught up with their schoolwork. We put them on the back counter and the kids were just drawn in by the whole process,” says Mr. LaBernardo. “They cared about them, they nurtured them and got excited when they started growing.”

The reaction he saw among his homeroom class got his wheels spinning on how to tap into their excitement and turn it into a learning experience. “I teach environmental science and it had a unit on agriculture. I thought let’s make this part of the curriculum and see how the students respond to it. They really enjoyed it and every year it seemed I spent more and more time adding to the unit, eventually converting our classroom into a true growing laboratory. I added shelves, fluorescent lights, thermometers, and timers in the classroom and finally thought; I might need to get some help with this.”


(L to R) Aaron Crosby (Lockport), teacher Dan LaBernardo and Adam Kremblas (Medina).

 

He said many people in the community stepped up to help him out with the project by donating seeds and soil. A company as far away as Indiana donates up to 50lbs of seed every year. Zehr’s in Burt, NY gave them a huge gift of acting as mentor and even donating some greenhouse space to start the seedlings. “When I told the owner I was looking for assistance he told me told me, “You don’t need to make another call, you hit the jackpot!” He allowed our students to tour the greenhouse and let us pick his brain. It was great.” Mr LaBernardo says that almost every single farmer he has reached out to has been very open with him about their craft. “They are excited about passing on their culture to a new generation. The end result is the students walk out of here with a skill and pride in what they have created.”

At the end of their first planting, the students had hundreds of tomato plants that they sold at the school. It inspired Mr. LaBernardo to dream big. With the help of Paul Dewey’s and Anthony Molinaro’s students at the Niagara Career and Technical Education Center, we were able to set up our own vegetable garden right here at the Academy. Now I would really love to get a greenhouse. I have to do some research and see if I can get support for that. Between our regular students, the Career and Development and Occupational Studies (CDOS) students and our summer school students, we have many children that have benefitted from this part of my curriculum. The impact it has had on the kids has been amazing. As we all know, some of our students haven’t had a lot of nurturing in their lives and to see them take such delicate care and nurture these plants is truly a wonderful sight. When they see the plants produce fruits, vegetables, or flowers, it’s like they are proud parents. “On so many levels this has been good for them, the staff, and the culture here at the Academy. I really hope we can expand this.”

 

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