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    Students' hard work has payoff: a garden at school


    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2001

    Students at Brooker Creek Elementary School are getting lessons in both water conservation and cooperation, thanks to a grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud.

    Janet Vanderkirk's second-grade class and Bernadette Christian's fifth-grade class received a $750 grant in October to plant a garden at the school using native plants and xeriscaping.

    The grants are awarded to a number of teachers in Pinellas County annually by Swiftmud, which recently began a partnership with the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service to educate students and the community through hands-on experience.

    "We started this program not only as a way for students to learn to conserve water, but also because the gardens many times become demonstration sites," said Beth Bartos, in-school education coordinator for Swiftmud.

    Bartos said parents and local business people often become involved with the students in the planting and care of the garden. Also, a dedication ceremony is usually held when the gardens are complete, and it brings in many parents and community members to see the water conservation and xeriscaping at work.

    The two classes worked hand-in-hand to design and plant the garden, which is in an area surrounded by portable classrooms that was not very attractive, according to Christian.

    "It was a dead piece of grass," she said.

    The students, their parents and teachers began clearing the land in January and planted drought tolerant plants in the garden including Indian hawthorne, plumbago, lantana and golden dewdrop.

    The older students did most of the heavy work and the younger students worked as assistants on the project, Christian said.

    Williams Nursery, which is close to the school, sold them the plants at cost and delivered everything for free.

    A drip irrigation system is being installed to keep the plants moist with a minimum of water.

    Christian said the garden project has been a positive experience for the children.

    "It's teaching them to become stewards of their environment" and "that you can still have beauty and work with the environment," she said.

    The students agree that they have learned from the experience. "I've learned that it takes a lot of hard work to do the garden," said Chris Martin, 10, who is a student in Christian's class. "And that you should wear old clothes."

    Student of the month chosen

    Alex Buric has been named East Lake Rotary Student of the Month from Cypress Woods Elementary School.

    Alex, 11, is the son of Michael and Michelle Buric who live in Lansbrook. He is a safety patrol and is active in sports.

    Alex is in the fifth grade and his teacher is Rita Spillers, who says he is an excellent student and a positive role model.

    Show to focus on using native plants

    Craig Huegel, manager of Brooker Creek Preserve and Pinellas County environmental lands administrator, will be one of the featured presenters at the Florida Native Plant Society's homeowner conference and trade show May 12 at the Westin Innisbrook Resort.

    The trade show is free and open to the public from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It will feature educational exhibits and information and will offer hard-to-find native plants from all over Florida for sale.

    The conference will feature a keynote presentation by conservation biologist Stuart Pimm, reviewing editor for Science magazine.

    Huegel, who is also the author of Butterfly Gardening with Florida's Native Plants and A Selection Guide to Native Trees and Shrubs, will give a presentation called "Start Planting for Wildlife."

    The cost for the conference is $30. The Westin Innisbrook Resort is at 37650 U.S. 19 N. For information, call 1-866-356-2848.

    School to host technology night

    Brooker Creek Elementary School will hold a family technology night at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the school, 3130 Forelock Road.

    The emphasis of the evening will be using technology and the Internet in education. The discussion also will address issues of privacy and safety.

    The featured speaker will be St. Petersburg Times personal technology editor Dave Gussow.

    Call the school at (727) 943-4600 or check

    Newcomers group plans meeting

    The Palm Harbor Newcomers Alumnae and Friends Club will hold its monthly meeting at 11 a.m. May 3 at East Lake Woodlands Country Club, 300 East Lake Fairway.

    Dermatologists Susan Roper and Adele Moreland will speak on skin care.

    The meeting is open to the public. The cost for lunch is $15 and reservations must be made by Friday. Call (727) 796-1405.

    - If you have news or photos about East Lake schools, churches, businesses, neighborhood groups, community organizations or people, contact Julie Church at the North Pinellas Times. You can call her at (727) 445-4229 or mail material to North Pinellas Times, 34342 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, FL 34684.

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