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Lilavois secures grant for garden classroom at James Clemens

Joelle Lilavois takes a break in the Genome Cache during a HudsonAlpha conference. She secured a grant for a classroom garden at James Clemens High School. (CONTRIBUTED)
Joelle Lilavois takes a break in the Genome Cache during a HudsonAlpha conference. She secured a grant for a classroom garden at James Clemens High School. (CONTRIBUTED)

MADISON – James Clemens High School students will connect with the environment in a garden classroom, thanks to a grant that Joelle Lilavois secured.

Lilavois’ idea for the “living laboratory” originated at the Genetic Technologies for Alabama Classrooms (GTAC) two-week academy at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. “Madeline Loftin at HudsonAlpha explained lots of money is out there. Teachers just need to ask and start writing grants and proposals,” Lilavois said.

This summer, Lilavois applied for four grants and earned a $1,000 grant from WalMart. Her objective is to build an outdoor classroom (garden) to teach sustainability and farming techniques, while connecting standard and advanced placement classes in environmental science.

Lilavois believes the outdoor setting will enhance study and will interest community benefactors. On the campus’ northwest side, the garden site is by a pond near a natural stream.

A “living laboratory” concept involves students getting their hands dirty inspecting soils, plant options and growing conditions. “Students are going to build it. I hope this gives students the ‘why’ factor … where they take ownership of their learning,” Lilavois said.

Lilavois hopes is secure additional funding for hydroponics and aeroponics farming to use different techniques.

For fall semester, the classroom will accommodate about 28 AP students and 30 students in standard environmental science. “It’s the perfect size to start. My plan is to have two or three raised garden beds,” Lilavois said.

Students will research the ‘crops,’ probably lettuce and other vegetables.

Promoting cross-curricular learning, the outdoor classroom will involve design, which uses mathematics and construction. “We’re having history (classes) look at how the area has changed, types of soil and plant (habitation)… even looking at Environmental Protection Agency laws,” she said.

This reading research and writing will complement new literacy standards. “It will be exciting to present ideas to teachers and have faculty and students come up with activities,” Lilavois said.

Lilavois is married and her daughters are entering kindergarten and fourth grade. She is studying for education specialist certification.

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