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The roots of learning

Young students at a Hyde Park Montessori school learn about botany by growing their own vegetables and flowers.

By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2002

PARKVIEW -- Catalina, Giancarlo and Katie -- how does your garden grow?

Very well, thank you, say the budding botanists at the Montessori Children's House of Hyde Park.

The students garden nearly every day at the private school on the busy corner of Armenia Avenue and Cleveland Street. They nurture rows of herbs and vegetables, much as teachers try to nurture them.

"The children plant, maintain, harvest and eat," said Roberta Fernandez, administrative director and co-owner of the school. "They're learning that everything has a purpose."

Three small patches of herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, eggplant and strawberries are enough to reinforce the lesson. Parent Jennifer Calverly supplied new seedlings and directed the planting when the school year started in August.

"We take home the flowers and vegetables and make salads and stuff," said Catalina Velez, 8. Sunflowers are her favorite. She also likes to dissect flowers and label the parts, "like the stem and style and corolla."

For Giancarlo Tornello, nearly 10, it's all about dirt and digging.

"I ate the last green bean on Monday," he says with a mischievous grin. "I was checking for ripe ones and I found it and I ate it."

Katie McCormick, 8, enjoys watering and watching the strawberries turn red. She likes it so much she says she works in a garden at home, too.

One year, for Mother's Day gifts, every child made a bottle of herbed vinegar. That helped complete the cycle from seed to salad dressing.

"Montessori is very practical. There are real-life applications all through the educational program," noted Fernandez.

Maria Montessori's research, dating back to 1907, showed children learn best in small, multi-age, specially prepared classrooms. The Montessori method recognizes that children learn differently, according to their individual social, physical and emotional needs.

"It's not about getting people ready for examinations, it's about (the) experience of life," said Amanda Linton-Evans, director of education. "They can relate what they study inside, say in botany, to growing the flowers themselves in the outside environment."

Fernandez and Linton-Evans opened the Montessori school in 1996. They began teaching 33 students in a former photography studio in a home built in 1916. After remodeling adding three buildings, four classrooms were created. Current enrollment is 112 students, ages 3 to 9. There are four teachers and four assistants, plus an art teacher, sports coach and office staff.

Montessori Children's House of Hyde Park is one of about five schools in Florida accredited by the Association of Montessori Internationale.

-- Amy Scherzer can be reached at 226-3332 or

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