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New Junior Program Training Gardeners
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A group of 105 youngsters in Kossuth have included gardening in their classroom activities and become the first Junior Master Gardener group in the state.
In November, the Kossuth Aggie Junior Gardeners registered as Junior Master Gardeners. The fifth graders' teachers began teaching a gardening curriculum and the classes began working in their outdoor classroom at the school. The group studies environmental and horticultural topics, does hands-on activities, and has the opportunity to take on community leadership projects.
"This is a good way for teachers to do hands-on activities with their students, which a lot of educational research shows is the best way to educate students," said Sonja Skelly, Extension consumer horticulture specialist at Mississippi State University. "If you get real creative, you can use the garden to teach every subject."
Lelia Kelly, area Extension horticulturist in Verona, said the Junior Master Gardener program started last fall in the state. Two elementary teachers are the volunteers leaders for the first group, which is under the supervision of Alcorn County 4-H program assistant Tammy Parker.
"The program is totally flexible and allows the volunteer leaders and youth to become as involved as they want to be," Kelly said. "There are no set regulations about what the kids must do."
There are three levels to the Junior Master Gardener program, with programs for third through fifth graders, intermediate students and high schoolers. It is designed for classrooms, home schoolers or other groups.
There are three degrees of involvement possible. Youth can become certified Junior Master Gardeners, be involved in the Golden Ray program or be a registered group that includes Junior Master Gardener training in classroom instruction.
Junior Master Gardeners and their volunteer leaders all join the 4-H program, which offers the Junior Master Gardener projects. Gardeners follow a handbook that describes many activities that can be undertaken, or they can select their own projects from the community. Volunteer leaders also have a guidebook to help them as they work with the youth.
"The Junior Master Gardener program is designed to give a basic education in horticulture," Kelly said. "It's a 4-H project that helps teach leadership and responsibility by helping students understand that if they don't take care of plants and gardens, they will die."
Mississippi initiated a pilot Junior Master Gardener program last fall in the northern half of the state that will run through May. Already, about 20 to 24 groups have registered and begun gardening activities. Some Extension agents and volunteer leaders were trained in late fall and mid-winter to work with the new groups.