Children First: 700 donated gardening kits provide hand-on experience for distance learning students

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Two South Valley charter schools are adding an extra element to their science curriculum, all thanks to a local organization committed to serving youth.

Ten-year-old Hazen Contreras has handled the transition to online education with grace.

The Blue Oak Academy fifth-grader navigates Google Classroom with ease and has accepted the fact that it will be some time before he's able to see his friends in-person again.

He's also ready to tackle a new hands-on science assignment despite not having lots of experience with the activity.

"I've always kind of liked gardening. I've just been never big about it." Contreras said.

The gardening project comes courtesy of the Visalia Sunset Rotary, a group that has continued monthly service projects during the pandemic.

In August, Rotarians made school supply kits for students at Goshen Elementary School.

And in mid-September, they gathered at the Visalia's Rawhide Stadium to assemble nearly 700 gardening kits for all students at Blue Oak Academy and Sycamore Valley Academy.

"The schools have done so much trying to get Chromebooks out to the kids and things like that, but we're trying to give that little extra that they could use, too," said Rotarian Cheri Barnes.

Michelle Henderson teaches science for multiple grade levels at Blue Oak and Sycamore Valley.

Once the kits are delivered, she'll assign a seed germination experiment for the older students.

But after that, she hopes students will take the reins and grow something beautiful on their own.

Henderson says students miss some of the basics during distance learning, like thinking aloud, collaborating with peers, or even just using a pen and paper for homework.

But this project will help bridge that gap.

"Having something tangible is so important for them, especially in science, because there's that kinesthetic connection between their hands and their brains, which they need to learn," Henderson said.

Hazen may not be a master gardener, yet. But he knows sunlight will be essential to his success, so he's picked the perfect spot for his pot.

The rest is simple, "Soil, seeds, water, then just do that until it grown," he said.

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