Education

This Merced County school is among of the nation’s tops for green thumbs

Teacher Sergio de Alba talks with a sixth grade class about the “furry” texture of a leaf Wednesday, April 26, 2017, in a school garden at R.M. Miano Elementary School in Los Banos. de Alba was selected for the 2018 EPA Region 9 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators for his garden learning program.
Teacher Sergio de Alba talks with a sixth grade class about the “furry” texture of a leaf Wednesday, April 26, 2017, in a school garden at R.M. Miano Elementary School in Los Banos. de Alba was selected for the 2018 EPA Region 9 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators for his garden learning program. vshanker@losbanosenterprise.com

A Los Banos school already touted for its garden and farming-based learning received another accolade after being awarded a national grant for adding a carnivorous plant section to its growing program.

R.M. Miano Elementary was one of six winners of the 2019 Budding Botanist Grant, which supports garden programs throughout the country. “This grant is basically saying we’re one of the top six garden programs in the country,” said Sergio de Alba, a Miano teacher and head of the garden program.

The grant awarded $500 in tools and educational materials and a $2,500 check for installation of a new garden or expansion of an existing one.

With the funds, the school, which already has 13 different gardens, will construct a new “bog garden,” with about 40 different carnivorous plants, including butterworts, pitcher plants and sundews.

“The biggest difference with (the garden program) is it’s a hands-on project that increases engagement, and engagement equals student success,” de Alba said.

For example, the school’s rock and butterfly garden allows kindergarteners and first graders to release butterflies they’ve raised as part of a life-cycle unit. And a rose garden helps students learn propagation through cuttings, de Alba said.

Research also points to garden-based learning is effective at increasing children’s consumption of fruits and vegetables.

The school’s program last year won another award that allowed it to build a hydroponic cloning system that almost doubled the efficiency of producing new saplings.

De Alba, the 2015 Merced County Teacher of the Year, last year was named by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as one of the most innovative environmental educators in the country for the program.

The Budding Botanist Grant was awarded by the Klorane Botanical Foundation and the non-profit KidsGardening. “(The grant is) a tremendous opportunity to work with these deserving schools in empowering them to bring green spaces back to our cities,” said Jacqueline Flam, with the foundation.

The school will be honored with a city proclamation for the grant during a ceremony at the school at 9 a.m., Thursday, May 2, at 1129 E. B St. in Los Banos, according to a news release.

Other winners included Inez Elementary in New Mexico, Thurston High in Michigan, Spring Hill Elementary in Tennessee, Renaissance Charter in New York and Waltersville School in Connecticut.

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