Cary Woods students work in the gardens at school

Auburn High School and Cary Woods Elementary School were among four schools and nonprofit organizations to receive a conservation education grant through the Alabama Power Foundation’s Students to Stewards program.

Auburn High School and Cary Woods Elementary School were among four schools and nonprofit organizations to receive a conservation education grant through the Alabama Power Foundation’s Students to Stewards program.

Students to Stewards curriculum grants provide up to $1,000 each for classroom lessons and in-the-field learning. For both Auburn schools, the grant will help fund hands-on programs where elementary and secondary students will learn by doing.

"I'm all about any hands-on (projects) you can do," said Caley Bloodworth, an environmental science teacher at Auburn High. Bloodworth will use her $1,000 grant to fund water and soil testing kits that will allow students to participate in a yearlong study of the environment at the new Auburn High School's campus.

"We're going to have a creek on our campus next year, so that's going to allow me to actually take my students to the creek and teach them how to do water testing and soil testing," Bloodworth said. "(The grant) will fund all the kits, so it's not going to be me in the water doing it; it's going to be the students. They will have their own equipment."

The students will approach the project with the mindset of learning about the campus environment, but also about the community as a whole, Bloodworth said. This will be the first time the students will be working on a hands-on environmental project outside of a school lab.

"I feel like I've been given the opportunity at Auburn High School to build our environmental program," Bloodworth said. "The administration has been super supportive of all the different ideas I've had and (AHS Principal) Dr. (Shannon) Pignato, when I told her about (the idea), she was like, 'That's awesome; I want you to utilize our new campus.' "

Bloodworth teaches mostly junior and senior students at AHS in classes including Essential Environmental and AP Environmental.

At Cary Woods Elementary School, after-school program teacher Cyndi Czerkawski will use her $1,000 grant to teach students about gardening.

"It's called a stewardship; (Alabama Power) wants to promote programs that let the children be very involved so when they leave here, hopefully they'll continue to grow their own vegetables and have their own gardens," Czerkawski said.

She has been doing the gardening program for 10 years and says she continues to do it because she loves seeing how it influences the children.

"The kids are wonderful," she said. "They come up and say, 'I'm planting flowers in my yard,' or 'Ms. Cyndi, I'm starting a garden.' The afterschool children take care of (the garden) with me, and kids at recess get to benefit from the garden. The whole school benefits."

The grant will go toward funding a potting bench and gardening materials so the students can add to the garden that already exists on the school's campus. The grant will also allow Czerkawski to attend a teacher training workshop regarding farm-to-table practices — a concept she has implemented in the afterschool program before.

"We trim herbs and make tomato sauce," she said. "(The garden) just adds to the mental health of everybody to see how pretty everything looks, and the kids frolic around ... We're excited about the grant."

The recipients of the 2017 Students to Stewards curriculum grants also include Beulah Elementary School and Friends of the Montgomery Clean City Commission. Students to Stewards grant program is part of the Alabama Power Foundation’s Brighter Minds education initiative, which helps prepare students for the workforce.

“Students have an opportunity to learn firsthand about Alabama’s natural resources and preservation of those resources,” said Susan Comensky, foundation board member and Alabama Power vice president of Environmental Affairs. “We believe this program is an investment in our future and will yield a great return for our students and our state.”

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