Van Buren School District Education Foundation handed out $45,783.48 worth of grants to teachers Tuesday morning for projects ranging from stocking the greenhouse at King Elementary to training in mental health first aid for all schools.

Foundation members go on Prize Patrol twice a year to award grants to teachers from Van Buren School District that have applied for money to use toward education projects in their classrooms.

Winning projects must be innovative and relate to current curriculum, said Debbie Thomas, executive director for the VBSD Education Foundation.

King Elementary teachers Kim Doss, Jolie Hobbs, Kim Teague, Brooke Fruits, Emilee Higdon and Alyssa Luper applied for the $1,250 grant to help purchase supplies for the LEED school’s innovative greenhouse project, which ties in with its ecologically based curriculum.

"We saw a need to have more hands-on science-based additions to the curriculum that also tie in to the environment," Doss said.

King has had a garden for several seasons where students can grow their own vegetables, Doss said. They have had spring and fall gardens, but because there was no way to grow in the winter - a protective film on the windows prevents classrooms from having window gardens - students have not been able to view the full process, she said.

A greenhouse allows kids to tend and grow vegetables from seed to harvest, Doss said.

Lowe’s helped purchase the greenhouse, and this recent grant will allow the teachers to buy supplies such as shelving, a heater, netting and automatic ventilation to make it fully operable.

Having a working greenhouse will be beneficial to the students in several ways, Doss said. It will allow kids to be outside each day, which is proven to help mental health, and will help kids make a strong connection between the Earth and their food, which Doss said promotes healthy eating and environmental stewardship.

Having gardens already has affected how many students view vegetables and being outside, Doss said, giving them a higher understanding and appreciation of both.

A greenhouse helps the school fulfill year-long it’s obligation to inquiry driven, environmentally focused curriculum, but Doss said more importantly, it helps students become food independent by learning how to tend their own gardens.

"We want them to learn to do these things, not just for the science curriculum, but on their own," Doss said. "It helps hunger, it helps their health and also just the emotional benefits."

Doss enjoys encouraging kids to grow up with the belief that interacting with the environment is important, she said.

"It gives you a deeper purpose when you’re teaching. It gives you hope that [these kids] will be able to help the Earth," Doss said.

Doss and her fellow teachers are now searching for funding to expand some of the garden areas at King into outside classrooms, she said.

Other projects being funded by the Foundation include mental health aid training, physical fitness through Frisbee golf, new books for several school libraries and various kinds of technology.

For a full list of grants….