By Sam Watson
For a select group of Mellichamp Elementary School students, learning to plant seeds and grow things has been more than just fun. It has helped them grow, as well.
The students are part of a research project funded by South Carolina State University 1890 Research & Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Antoinette C. Hollis, lead researcher and an assistant professor in the Counselor Education Program in the Department of Human Services at SC State, wrote the grant to investigate the effects of horticultural therapy on elementary school students, specifically looking at self-esteem, wellness and resilience.
The students started the program in the spring while they were in the fourth grade and finished up in the fifth grade. The program consisted of a weekly two-hour after-school program. Initially the program was to be in-person at Mellichamp, but the COVID-19 pandemic made it necessary to go virtual.
Each week, the students received a garden kit with soil, seeds, pots, and other items related to gardening and nature.
Hollis said students have been taught the basics of plant science and have learned to grow vegetables and flowers from seeds and care for houseplants. They have learned about the creatures that inhabit our gardens, learning about bird song and butterfly migration. They studied why leaves turn colors in fall and learned all about bats.
“What I learned about the Garden Club was how much water I needed to water my plants,” fifth grader Jacqueline Rangel said. “I also learned some things about worms, like worms don’t have eyes.
“My favorite thing about the Garden Club was planting beans and other plant seeds. My other favorite thing about the Garden Club was doing fun activities. I love this Garden Club so much, and I know our time together as the Garden Club is coming to an end, but I am thankful for being in it,” Jacqueline said.
According to Hollis, the skills students have developed have increased their self-esteem and taught them about resilience. She described the participants as “super gardeners.”
“The wonder of putting a seed in the soil and watching it grow has given them a special skill not everyone has,” Hollis said. “Their experiences with the plants have given them an understanding of how to bounce back when things aren’t going well, just as a plant that is wilted will bounce back when it is watered.”
Fifth grader Noah Green said his experience in the Garden Club was excellent.
“I learned so much, like how to make a worm farm, what temperature water (is needed) to water a plant, and most importantly, how to be a better person,” Noah said. “Also, my favorite part about the garden club is that the people are so generous.”
SC State 1890 Research and Extension and Mellichamp closed out the Garden Club with a program highlighting the students’ achievements on Dec. 15. The participants shared garden-related artwork, their stories and their plants with parents and various Orangeburg County school officials
“I am grateful for the partnership with the 1890 Research and the USDA. Dr. Hollis and her expert team of therapists, master gardeners and farmers did an amazing job with our Mellichamp students who participated in the horticultural therapy research program,” said Dr. Elrica C. Glover, Mellichamp principal. “I believe the grant was successful in meeting its goal to engage our students, while enhancing their overall mental and physical health.”
Glover said it was evident the students enjoyed the hands-on experiences because of their attendance and participation during the weekly sessions.
“The weekly sessions provided real-life experiences of growing plants that the students will remember forever,” Glover said. “We are closer to fulfilling our district’s mission of using innovative ideas and practices to prepare our scholars to become productive citizens of society because of the collaboration and hard work from this partnership.”