June 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW1

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Junior Master Gardeners[TM] Program Addresses Youth Needs

The new JMGs[TM] - Junior Master Gardeners[TM] program is building on the success of the adult Master Gardener program in order to provide positive learning experiences for youth and to develop their leadership, responsibility and community pride through organized gardening activities.

Douglas F. Welsh
Associate Professor and Extension Horticulturist
Texas Master Gardener Coordinator
Internet address: d-welsh@tamu.edu

Lisa A. Whittlesey
Extension Program Specialist
Texas Junior Master Gardener Coordinator

Randy L. Seagraves
Junior Master Gardener Curriculum Coordinator

Gayle W. Hall
Associate Professor and
Extension 4-H & Youth Development Specialist

Marsha M. Harlow
Texas Master Gardener Communications Coordinator

Texas A&M University
College Station, Texas

A new program has been developed by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service and the Texas 4-H Youth Development Foundation with the goal of involving youth in organized gardening activities that will build leadership and self confidence and foster a positive academic learning environment.

The new JMGs[TM] - Junior Master Gardeners[TM] program builds on the success of the adult Master Gardener program while addressing challenges faced by youth. In an effort to protect the quality of the program and to reserve it for educational, non-commercial use, JMGs[TM], Junior Master Gardeners, and associated logo design are service marks of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service. These service marks were sought with the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office in an effort to prevent commercial and inappropriate use.

A recently completed three-year research project by Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio involving classroom gardening conducted by the Bexar County Master Gardeners seems to indicate that children are experiential learners and that independent thinking and personal responsibility seem to be developed through gardening activities. In the study, students demonstrated learning in academic, personal, and social areas.

Students learned how to care for something that was dependent on them for growth and how painful it can be to have something they care for destroyed. In addition, students learned how to work as a team and how their harvest could provide for others less fortunate.

The self-esteem data from this study indicate that the addition of classroom gardens to the third grade curriculum had a global, long-term, beneficial influence on the participants. The improvements that were produced in year one were sustained two years after participating in the classroom garden project. The study, conducted from 1995 to 1998, validates the importance of programs that integrate gardens into traditional classroom curriculums.

Since the Master Gardener program began in 1972, it has spread to all 50 states and Canada. The JMGs[TM] program is designed for youth ages 9-19 and will incorporate elements of volunteerism, positive learning, leadership, responsibility, and community pride. Its stated goals are to develop leadership life skills, identify community needs and volunteer service opportunities, enhance positive youth development thorough peer teaching and cross-generational mentoring, improve the quality of life through horticultural projects, and increase the availability of horticulture and environmental education.

The new program will use the statewide network of the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, including the Texas 4-H program's youth development programs and the Texas Master Gardeners' volunteer support in individual communities. A three-year development phase of the curriculum and training program has involved Extension specialists, county Extension agents, public school educators, Master Gardeners, and 4-H volunteers and youth.

The JMGs[TM] program is built in three tiers: Level 1 is targeted at Grades 3-5, Level 2 is targeted at Grades 6-8, and Level 3 is targeted at Grades 9-12. Each level is constructed to build and grow to the next level. The program is designed to incorporate science, mathematics, language arts, geography, and other subject area disciplines into the "hands-on" gardening based activities.

The JMGs[TM] program goes beyond a traditional classroom or youth gardening experience by: (a) training older youth to become mentors for younger children participating in the program, and (b) making youths responsible for initiating local community service projects. The program is designed with the flexibility to be used by different groups beyond traditional Extension programs, such as public schools, home schools, after-school programs, or youth clubs. Individual activities allow youth to extend their learning from the group site to the home.

Eight areas of instruction have been designated: plant growth and development; environmental horticulture; fruit and nuts; home landscaping; soils, water and fertilizers; insects and garden ecology; vegetables and herbs; and career exploration. To become a certified Junior Master Gardener[TM], the youth must complete all eight subjects at his or her appropriate level.

Schools or groups may also participate in the JMGs[TM] program by completing a JMGs[TM] Golden Ray Series. These are thematic mini units that combine a variety of activities from all subject units to focus on one topic, such as "Nutrition in the Garden," "Building A Vegetable Garden," "Creating a Backyard Habitat," and many others. The Golden Ray Series contains approximately 18-to-20 activities and a community service project. The units are designed to be completed in a shorter duration of time and are especially applicable for classrooms with time constraints.

The Junior Master Gardeners[TM] handbook will be available both for youths and for leaders/teachers at each level. The handbook offers a wide choice of group and individual activities, allowing flexibility to youths and teachers participating in the program.

The draft copy of the Level 1 JMGs[TM] Handbook and Leader Management Guide was scheduled for completion in the fall of 1998. Local Master Gardener volunteers, 4-H volunteers, educators, and others involved in the pilot project will attend a training workshop on implementing the JMGsm program and how to work successfully with youth. During the spring of 1999, the program will be pilot tested and formally evaluated at five pilot sites in the Houston area and within the College Station school district.

Level 1 of the JMGs[TM] program will be available for statewide implementation and use by September 1999. The program will be featured at the International Master Gardener Conference in San Antonio in August 1999.

Funding for the development of Level 1 of the JMGs[TM] Junior Master Gardener program came through a $150,000 grant from the Houston Endowment Inc. Resources are being solicited to fund the development of Levels 2 and 3 of this program.