Thomas Marrone of Pleasantville, helped launch a new service-learning partnership aimed at getting local elementary school children excited about growing their own food.
With grant funding acquired through SUNY Oneonta's Center for Social Responsibility and Community, Assistant Professor of Biology Sean Robinson built and installed vegetable grow boxes in all 12 kindergarten through fifth-grade classrooms at Riverside Elementary School last fall.
As an added challenge for the fifth-graders, Robinson built hydroponics growing units and placed them side-by-side with the regular grow boxes so the students could see which type of system worked better for their plants.
Marrone, who is majoring in Adoloscent Education- Social Studies, was assigned to one of the classrooms as part of a group of three to four student "box buddies." A total of 68 biology and sociology students participated in the program. Throughout the fall semester, the students visited their assigned classrooms several times to help the children plant vegetables and herbs and to present lessons about food, society, the environment and plant biology. Each lesson included group discussion and a hands-on activity, such as a game or worksheet.
"This project has really helped my students learn the information better," said Robinson. "It's also helped with other skills, such as public speaking. Initially the students were nervous about presenting in front of anybody-even little kids-but then by the second or third week, they got totally into it. They got comfortable, they found their groove. And they had fun with it."
After a successful launch, Fulkerson and Robinson said they are excited about the partnership's potential to grow. Robinson will continue to visit the school this spring to check on the plants, and school Principal Melinda Murdock is working on plans for a harvest festival or local foods tasting event. Next fall, Fulkerson will have a new group of sociology students doing classroom visits, and he hopes to get more faculty members and schools involved.
"I think the model is a really good one in terms of bringing the college students to the elementary-age students," Fulkerson said. "Everybody benefits: the community, our students. It's a win-win."
A liberal arts institution with a strong focus on undergraduate research and service learning, SUNY Oneonta consistently gains recognition for delivering excellence and value. The college has been named to Kiplinger's list of "100 Best Values in Public Colleges" for 10 years running and sits at No. 12 on the 2017 U.S. News and World Report list of the best public institutions in the region. SUNY Oneonta enrolls 6,000 students in its 70 undergraduate majors and 14 graduate programs.