Yampa "It's kind of slimy, so you guys will love it," volunteer teacher Mo Shifter said to a class of fifth-graders at Soroco Elementary School on Thursday.
"I love worms," one student blurted out.
Shifter brought in a large plastic tub of worms for the students to dig into so they could learn how worms live and fertilize soil.
Their task was to create a "Critter Condo Com-posting Bin" out of a 2-liter plastic bottle by filling it with soil, worms and vegetables for them to eat and turn into fertilizer.
The students were to seal the containers from light and check the "Condo" weekly, to see the progress of the worms's work.
The project was just one activity in the Junior Master Gardener Program, a 45-minute class taught once a week by Shifter that provides hands-on experience to the children.
"You can sit for a lecture and tune out pretty easily, but when you're actually engaged in it -- seeing, hearing, touching, smelling -- when you are using all your senses, you can't tune it out as easily," said Barb Poulin, a fifth-grade teacher who lets Shifter take over her class every Thursday.
Sarah Buck, 11, said the gardening program is "a breather" from regular classroom learning. She said the subject she enjoyed learning about most was plant life cycles, especially water absorption.
Instead of simply reading about water absorption and being tested on it, the class added green dye to water and added white carnations. Minutes later, the flower began turning green, showing the students how quickly water is absorbed by plants.
Beyond plants, the students have learned other topics, such as fire safety.
Joe Long, 11, said he learned how water is "the most important thing you can have," and how creeks can serve as barriers in wildfires.
The Junior Master Gardener Program is a national program, organized locally through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office by Jay Whaley and C.J. Mucklow. Soroco is the only school in Colorado that participates in the program.
Shifter said when she heard the program needed a volunteer teacher, she wanted to do it to help out and because she has a fifth-grader at Soroco herself.
She said the program helps students build vocabulary by follow-up testing. Credit from the tests goes toward the students' science grades.
"It's educational, but it's also fun and exciting," fifth-grader Matt Watwood said.
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