Our School Awarded $1,000 Grant From NC Beautiful

The Learning Center Charter School was awarded a $1,000 grant from NC Beautiful on February 13, 2018.

NC Beautiful has been part of the state’s environmental preservation community for 40 years, supporting awareness, education and beautification efforts across the state. The organization concentrates on hands-on and merit-based programs designed to empower North Carolina citizens to preserve the natural beauty of the state.

Since 2003, the charter school has provided outdoor education for all of its students.  The grant money will be used to enhance four outdoor learning spaces: 1) the front terraced garden; 2) a side garden plot; 3) the aquaponics garden; and 4) a new compost area. In addition to gardening tools such as clippers, shovels and gloves, additional mulch and soil will be added to the listed planting areas.

School Director, Mary Jo Dyre, said, “In this age where “screen time” heavily outweighs “green time,” we carefully craft a school day that allows our students to be outside getting their hands in the dirt as often as possible.”

Outdoor Learning Coordinator at the charter school, Emily Willey, added, “I am so thankful for the NC Beautiful Grant to provide us the funds to continue to maintain the garden beds and the tools to facilitate our spectacular outdoor program. These green spaces provide a much needed opportunity for our students to interact in a real way with the ecosystem around them while also gaining important skills and insights across their academic curriculum.”

Steve Vacendak, Executive Director of NC Beautiful, seen at far left, presented a $1,000 check to a portion of The Learning Center Charter School’s student body on February 13, 2018.

Our Students Garden Year Round

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Students at The Learning Center Charter School maintain a vegetable garden on campus which has them working in the dirt all school year long.  Kindergarten through eighth grade students at the school do everything in the garden from weeding, planting, watering and harvesting fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers.

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Gardening and agriculture have always been important at the school.  Director, Mary Jo Dyre, believes that gardening engages students by providing a living environment to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn. “Gardens are living laboratories where our students learn everything from team work to food production and lessons can be taught across the curriculum,” says Dyre.

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In September, students planted turnip seeds as part of their winter garden. In December, students excitedly harvested the turnips and learned that the root and greens are edible. All of these young gardeners were given a hearty serving to take home, while others eagerly ate their turnip raw.

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Emily Willey, elementary science and outdoor learning coordinator at the charter school, makes gardening a regular part of the daily routine for students at the school. “Playing an active role in food production teaches young people everything from agriculture to nutrition. These kids love seeing the fruits of their labor and are willing to eat unfamiliar vegetables as a result.”

Why are 1st Graders in the Garden?

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Students at TLC aren’t strangers to getting their hands dirty.  Why?  Because gardening engages students by providing a living environment to observe, discover, experiment, nurture, and learn.

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Gardens are living laboratories where our students learn everything from team work to food production and lessons can be taught across the curriculum.  Gardening encourages students to become active participants in the learning process.

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These first graders took time to plant radishes.  However, they weren’t just planting radishes.  They were also learning about energy that plants need to grow. They also deepened their understanding of how plants get nutrients from the soil to grow, flower and produce food.

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While they were in the garden, they snipped dozens of marigold blossoms in order to make garlands to decorate their classroom in celebration of fall harvest season!

Garden Tool Donation

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Local landscaper/gardener Tim Ryan from Brasstown makes a hearty donation of tools to help the miniature gardeners at The Learning Center. We thank Mr. Ryan for helping the next generation of stewards get hands on experience in the garden and out in the forests.

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Let’s Turnip the Beet!

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Earlier this Spring, these students harvested the beets that they planted as seed in the garden. Ms. Emily took them home and cooked them for the students to eat as well. Growing vegetables is an important way to get young kids interested in where their food comes and try new foods. Way to go students!

Are you part of the Green & Clean Crew?

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Our school Green & Clean Crew is responsible for keeping our grounds looking beautiful. If you like getting your hands dirty, or finding an excuse to be outdoors on a beautiful day, we have a job for you! Contact the office and find out how you can become part of this “growing” group.

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Coleman is Learning Center’s Aquaponics Man

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Local aquaponics enthusiast, Bill Coleman shares his passion for the agricultural technique with middle school students at The Learning Center! Charter School. He talks excitedly about the potential aquaponics has to produce sustainable food anywhere – even on rooftops.

He explains that aquaponics is the marriage between aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). It is an integrated system for farming fish and plants together in a mutually beneficial cycle. The fish, kept in tanks, produce waste that supplies nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water that is returned to the fish. The two systems benefit from each other. A third actor is the bacteria that converts the ammonia from the fish waste – first into nitrites, then into nitrates – that feed the plants. “Did you know,” Coleman excitedly asks, “that aquaponics requires only one-tenth the water of soil-based gardening?”

Coleman, a parent of former students at the school, got interested in aquaponics around four years ago – “quite by accident,” he adds – and experimented and perfected his own system. He decided to offer his volunteer efforts long-term to an “Aquaponics Elective” course at The Learning Center. He teaches a two-hour course every Friday for 6th 7th and 8th graders.

Coleman began by building the components, fashioning the tanks and perfecting the sump that is at the center of success of aquaponics design. Over time, the design went from 4 sq.ft. of growing area to about 120 sq. ft. “There were challenges that took months to iron out, including issues with water leakage,” said Coleman. “The whole process was two steps forward and one step back. The students, however, never faltered and we learned a great deal along the way.”

In this student run aquaponics system, one of many goals is to provide fresh, organic food that will be used in the school kitchen. “We have grown lettuce, broccoli, kale, peppers, arugula and more,” said Coleman. Students are learning the science of agriculture, botany, engineering skills and building techniques.

“We are excited about the community involvement in this important project,” said Coleman.” Materials were donated from local stores such as Lowe’s, TEAM Industries, Wilson’s, Hughes Electric, and from individuals just wanting to help the with the project.

If you would like to get involved in the aquaponics project at The Learning Center, or just discuss aquaponics and compare notes, contact Bill Coleman through the school at 828-835-7240.

Visiting Artist Plans Recycled Art Project for Campus Gardens

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Back in March, Ashevile based artist, Jeff Menzer, visited The Learning Center to plan projects he and students will be implementing on campus this spring. Mr. Menzer specializes in creating “Re-Art” Sculpture, figurative sculpture, and environmental installations using found objects and industrial discards.  This spring he will work with our students to turn discarded trampoline parts into art pieces that will become part of The Outdoor Learning Center.

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This large scale art piece project serves to involve students in the design process, involve students in collaborative problem solving of environmental issues through the creative process, and to complete two art sculptures, one a shelter and one large bug, that will be permanently installed on campus.