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PNM grant helps NMSU expand public school agri-science program in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS, N.M. – Most students learn how plants grow by reading textbooks. Next spring students in the Las Vegas City School District from kindergarten through high school will see the process with their own eyes.

Kids watching one student shoveling
Las Vegas City School District students learn how to raise vegetables at the New Mexico State University Extension and Research Youth Agricultural Science Center. The agri-science Seed-to-Plate program is expanding into a K-12, district-wide program. (NMSU photo )
People looking at ground
Sixth-graders see where potatoes come from while gardening at the New Mexico State University Extension and Research Youth Agricultural Science Center in Las Vegas, N.M. PNM Resources Foundation has donated $10,000 to support the expansion of the agri-science Seed-to-Plate program district-wide. (NMSU photo)

For 11 years, middle school students, grade 6-8, have had the opportunity to learn by doing, in a self-sustaining greenhouse and garden at the New Mexico State University Extension and Research Youth Agricultural Science Center on the middle school campus.

With the reorganization and consolidation of schools within the district, Peter Skelton, NMSU College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences associate professor and director of the science center, is expanding the program district-wide.

Through the “A New Century of Service” grant program celebrating PNM’s 100 years of doing business in New Mexico, PNM Resources Foundation has awarded a $10,000 grant to support the Seed-to-Plate program expansion.

“The PNM Centennial Seed-to-Plate project is creating a holistic K-12 farming program across the district,” Skelton said. “The partnership with PNM, the Las Vegas City Schools, the San Miguel Economic Development Corporation and NMSU will enhance education and economic development opportunities, and create a collaborative community space.”

In preparation for the spring, raised-garden boxes are being built at the K-3 Los Ninos Elementary School; next door at the 4-6 grade Sierra Vista Elementary School a greenhouse is being built; and at the junior high-high school complex a multi-functional high tunnel greenhouse is being built by the FFA and vocational education students.

“We want to expand on the success we have had with our middle school program,” Skelton said. “When we look at data from our research we can tell that the kids were not getting much science before they got to sixth grade.”

The integrated learning experience in sixth grade changed the students’ motivation and attitude toward learning as they enjoyed being in the greenhouse. Having the multi-functional high tunnel at the secondary level schools will allow that enthusiasm to continue.

“During our hands-on projects we gave context to the content teachers are teaching in the classroom,” Skelton said. “Kids see how their food grows and enjoy the fruit of their labor.”
The K-3 teachers will begin introducing basic agricultural concepts to the students as each classroom will have its own raised garden.

“I’m really interested in the integration of literacy, numeracy, agriscience, and outdoor classrooms and learning through Center programs,” Skelton said. “A K-12 model allows us to intervene educationally at a younger age, enhance current programs, and provide the connection between the science and real-world growing opportunities in secondary education.”

Ultimately, the students will be raising vegetables that will be served in the school cafeteria and donated to community hunger relief.

“We did this on a small scale at Memorial Middle School. Now we have the opportunity to do this at a larger scale and impact the education of more students,” Skelton said. “We want the kids to learn about growing fresh and nutritious food and the science of it. I’m really hoping that we will get some interest from teachers in supporting production in the high tunnel during the summer for sales at local farmers’ markets.”

Ultimately, Skelton hopes the program allows the students to develop the skills necessary for them to sustain themselves by growing their own food, or develop a business, or develop entrepreneurial skills that all adds to the local economy.

“We are a growing enterprise,” he said.