The next generation is growing at MES

Marlinton Elementary fifth graders proudly share their gardening plans as they show off the new greenhouse and garden which sits behind the school.

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

It takes time to grow a dream – perhaps, even a long time.

That was the case with the greenhouse and garden behind Marlinton Elementary School.

It started with MES fifth grade teacher Dondi Stemple, and a seed of an idea.

Fifth grade teachers Susan Grant, left, and Dondi Stemple pose in front of the bee house which is situated in the garden and greenhouse area. Plans for the garden include more flowering plants which will encourage pollinators, like bees, to visit the garden. L.D. Bennett photos

“Years ago, Ruth Bland worked at Green Bank Elementary School and had a small greenhouse,” Stemple began.

“She let the students work with her. It helped them with language and expression, among other things.

“I admired what she did with those students, and it gave me an idea that has stayed in the back of my mind all these years.”

After being away for several years, Stemple returned to Marlinton to teach at MES –  and the idea was still there.

She believed that a greenhouse or a garden would be a great way to help students make connections with math, science, reading and writing as well as spark an interest in agriculture.

“I approached our principal, Mr. Anderson, with the idea, and he was very supportive,” she said.  “He helped me find a location for it that would not be in the way of any other projects.”

In addition to a greenhouse and garden area, Stemple also wanted to help with a fifth grade 4-H club at the school.

She started sharing her idea and almost as if on cue, other members of the community stepped up to help.

Margaret Worth told Stemple about a grant for elementary school greenhouses.

“She said that the money for it would probably be available if we applied,” Stemple said. 

They applied, and the dream was on its way to becoming a reality.

“I talked to Luci Mosesso, the Pocahontas County 4-H Youth Development Extension Agent, and Greg Hamons, Program Coordinator Extension Agent, and they pitched in right away,” Stemple said with a smile.

“I couldn’t have started it without them.

“Luci and Greg each devoted a lot of time and effort to help us get that greenhouse up.”

When Pocahontas County residents Robin Mutscheller and Susan Davis, who work for the Bath County Pumped Storage Station, heard about the project, they wanted to help, too.

“It was my pleasure,” Mutscheller said.

“Susan Davis did the hard work. I just helped get the ball rolling.”

Students may bring a book and enjoy a secluded, almost magical spot for reading inside the tepee made of poles and soon to be covered by leafy bean vines. L.D. Bennett photo

Mutscheller, the Supervisor of Power Generation Technical Support at the Bath County Pumped Storage Station, explained that after she’d spoken with Stemple about the project, she took the idea to Bath County Pump and Storage station director Sean Fridley.

“He approved the initial $500 donation and our station involvement kept growing from that point,” she said. “Lots of our employees wanted to help.”

“They asked for a list of materials that we needed for the project,” Stemple said.

“We all thought it was a good community investment,” Mutscheller said. 

Like a lot of folks, Mutscheller has a soft spot in her heart for growing things.

 “I’ll never forget spending time with my grandmother in her garden when I was a child,” she said. “I hope the greenhouse project will give those same kind of fond memories to our MES students.”

“We helped plant seeds with the children, and who knows what that experience might help to grow in the future. 

“Perhaps some of these children will be gardeners, farmers or research scientists who will help develop seeds for insect resistant plants that will feed the world. 

“You just never know.” 

Susan Davis is the Senior Environmental Compliance Coordinator at the Bath County Pumped Storage Station.

“When we heard what Dondi and her fifth grade 4-H club were proposing, we wanted to help right away,” Davis said.

“Luci Mosesso drew up a list of materials that the school would need to get it started, and we went to work on making sure that they would have everything they needed.”

Dominion Energy employees helped construct the garden, gave funding for supplies, donated plants, and are planning to participate in some of the activities the students will be doing in the garden.

“Dominion Energy is committed to protecting the environment,” Davis stated.

“We feel it is important to educate our youth about the environment.

“Even though we live in a rural area, many children never get to experience planting a seed, tending to it, watching it grow and finally being able to harvest something to eat that you grew yourself.

“Gardening will provide numerous opportunities for students to apply knowledge they have gained in the classroom about plant development, the water cycle, soil chemistry and photosynthesis in a hands-on setting,” Davis said.

Other members of the community wanted to get in on the “ground floor” with the garden project.

“The Family Resource Network was wonderful, too,” Stemple said. “They made donations which we really appreciated.

“And the Energy Express students pitched in to get the garden going this summer.”

Susan Grant, Marlinton Elementary School’s other fifth grade teacher, is also involved with the gardening project and is looking forward to sharing its benefits with her students.

“We hope having a greenhouse at our school will help to promote lifelong learning and knowledge about the natural world,” she said.

“The greenhouse is a wonderful teaching tool for how to grow food. We hope that it will also help students learn more about plants and animals that are native to our area.”

“They will even use the garden in their art work – by drawing the plants and animals in the garden and the greenhouse.

“This type of hands-on learning will be more meaningful to all of our students. We all hope that working with the greenhouse will ignite students’ interest in caring for the world around them,” Grant concluded.

Terry Barb, a retired third grade teacher, spends a lot of time at MES working with reading issues.

Barb happened to be in Stemple’s fifth grade classroom the day the two fifth grade classes trooped outside to have their pictures made with the greenhouse/garden installation.

Barb said that just as a bystander, she is very excited about the greenhouse and garden.

“It’s been wonderful to walk down the trail beside the school every day and see what’s growing there,” she said.

Stemple and Mosesso are working together with the Marlinton Pioneers 4-H Club.

“Our 4-H club is open to all fifth graders at MES. We’re excited about it,” Stemple said. “Not only will it be wonderful to have them involved in 4-H, but this will be the first introduction to clubs and to Robert’s Rules of Order for most of these youngsters.

“And, of course, they’re going to have a lot of fun in the greenhouse and the garden,” she added.

Stemple and Grant’s fifth graders would seem to concur.

“Four-H and gardening both teach a lot about science,” Leanne Green said. “I think science is cool.”

Kielle Rohrbaugh agreed.

“I think it’s cool,” she said. “Not all schools have one.”

Gavin Jordan was looking forward to spending some school time outdoors.

“We don’t have to be cooped up inside all the time,” he said. “I go up to my grandpa’s every weekend, and we grow zucchini, corn, squash, potatoes and pumpkins. And I love to eat all of them.”

“It’s nice we have a greenhouse, so we can escape from school and be in a relaxing place,” David Reed said.

“I think it’s an important opportunity to learn about plants and how they grow,” Sabrina Hammons said. “Some kids don’t have that.”

“It’s a chance to learn how to grow our own food when we’re older,” Erin Rider added.

Carter Faulknier seemed ready for some advanced scientific study.

“I think it’s a privilege to have a greenhouse and a garden,” he said.

“It’s a connection to the ecosystem and bees and flowers.

“Plants are important. They absorb CO2, and they release oxygen,” Faulknier added, thoughtfully.

Where there was only a dream, there’s now the reality of a beautiful fenced garden area which holds a real greenhouse, a tepee of goliath bean vines, baby blueberry bushes, asparagus, a squash tunnel and two reading benches – all beckoning curious youngsters to come and learn about the natural world – right there in the back yard of their own school.

The greenhouse and garden are open for all MES teachers and students to use.

Mr. Smith’s fourth grade class is currently using it to conduct several experiments.

Plans are being made as to how to use the greenhouse and garden in the future. Students already know they want to plant more flowers and further attract native pollinators to the garden. 

During the winter, the greenhouse and the garden will be dormant, but the students will be using the winter months to plan for the next growing season.

It took two and a half years to bring her dream to fruition, but Stemple never faltered in her belief that the project would be worth the effort.

In a garden or in a classroom – whether you’re growing plants or growing well-rounded individuals – good teachers know that growth takes time.

“It took a while, and it did take a lot of help,” Stemple admitted. “But it was worth it.

“And who knows where it will lead?”

Stemple expressed her appreciation for everyone who had a hand in making this dream come true.

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