Even as most Clarke County schools remain online only, students in East Athens are learning about agriculture and nutrition through an in-person, hands-on University of Georgia program offered at a neighborhood community center.
UGA’s Grow It Know It (GIKI) program, a collaboration with Clarke County middle schools, is now offered two afternoons a week at the the East Athens Community Center. About 15 students, from second through sixth grade, have participated in the program run by the Office of Service-Learning, a UGA Public Service and Outreach unit.
“We were all interested in doing something positive for kids and there’s a gap in after-school programming right now, especially for in-person programming,” said Wick Prichard, GIKI program coordinator in the Office of Service-Learning. “So, we thought this program might be a good, safe way to engage kids and it’s turning out pretty well.”
Everyone is masked during the program, which is mostly held outdoors.
The Office of Service-Learning and the student-run UGArden partner to provide content for GIKI, which educates students about gardening, cooking, agricultural sustainability and nutrition.
“The kids have been so captivated by what’s going on,” said Trevor Ross, program supervisor at the East Athens Community Center. “I was surprised actually. Trying to introduce gardening to young children who live in places where they don’t see their parents or others gardening, seemed like it would be a challenge. But I guess not, because they are definitely interested.”
In addition to education, socialization and after-school care, the students also take home meals they have prepared.
“I think a lot of the kids we deal with are part of the food insecure community,” Ross said. “So, to send them home with a hefty meal is awesome.”
So far, students in the after-school program have learned about composting, transplanting and harvesting produce, how to use knives and how to prepare recipes. They even learned some basic carpentry skills by helping build garden beds and benches at the community center.
“We got to make and try a salad last week and it was good even though I’d never had it before,” said Keymorrya, a fourth-grade student. “We get to try new foods and water the plants so they grow. ”
Volunteers from the UGA student organization Whatever It Takes (WIT) help keep students engaged in the activities and also provide tutoring to students who need it.
“The Grow It Know It program has honestly been a blessing given this pandemic because it gives us activities that are hands-on and outdoors that the kids love,” said Nick Bremmer, executive director of WIT and a senior economics major at UGA. “They’re learning healthy ways to cook and about living a healthy lifestyle, which is so important.”
Prichard said he expects to launch a second after-school GIKI program at Lay Park, just north of downtown Athens, this spring.