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Hands-on learning: Garden provides outdoor classroom at Eau Claire elementary

Crouching down over a garden plot Tuesday, Steve Terwilliger helped a kindergarten student at Lakeshore Elementary School plant marigolds.

“This is for flowers, so anywhere in here,” Terwilliger said of the rectangular section of earth in front of them.

Using a garden hand shovel, the girl dug a small hole in the soil, and Terwilliger handed her a plant from a carton. She placed it in the hole and covered the roots with dirt and mulch.

“Now, we’re going to go get a watering can, and you can water everything we planted,” Terwilliger said.

That morning, Terwilliger, his wife, Ellen, and Pat Binder helped students in Becky Dasher’s class transfer flower and vegetable plants started from seeds in containers in the classroom weeks earlier to the ground in one of Lakeshore’s gardens behind the school.

“It gives kids an opportunity to learn,” said Deb Lewis, the elementary school’s partnership coordinator, as she watched student gardeners take their turns in the garden.

Started in 2011, the garden is one of several at Eau Claire schools, according to the Wisconsin School Garden Network, which supports the growing school garden movement in the state.

School gardens are one of the best ways to educate students on nutrition and agriculture while demonstrating where their food comes from, according to the state Department of Public Instruction.

In one corner of Lakeshore’s vegetable and flower garden Tuesday, master gardener Ellen Terwilliger helped a student with a vegetable plant.

“Those are roots,” Terwilliger explained to the girl after removing the plant from its container. “That’s how the plant gets its water.”

Standing back, Dasher beamed as the 20 students in her class cycled through the garden and three stations set up at tables outside the school.

At one, students were coloring pages in a booklet about gardening. At the other two, they were making either flowers using paper plates and construction paper or bird feeders by threading Cheerios onto pipe cleaners.

Waiting for his chance to plant flowers and vegetables — something he hadn’t done before — 6-year-old Damon Smith focused his attention on making a bird feeder.

“I normally like technology a lot, (but) it can hypnotize you,” said Damon, who didn’t mind taking a break from electronic gadgets so he could spend time in the outdoor classroom. “I think it’s fun.”

Sitting on a blanket nearby, classmate Harper Haus, 5, keyed up a video on a tablet.

“I like to plant the seeds,” said Harper, whose family has a garden at home with strawberries and tomatoes.

This summer, her family is one of about a dozen from Lakeshore who will water and weed the garden, plus enjoy some of its bounty, including basil, beets, sugar baby watermelon, zinnias and zucchini.

When school resumes in the fall, Ellen Terwilliger will return to Lakeshore, and she and Dasher’s students from the year before will revisit the garden.

“They get so excited seeing the progress the garden has made over the summer,” said Dasher, noting they also get to sample some of the produce.

“Having an opportunity like that at our school is amazing,” she said.

Associated Press  

In this Aug. 30, 1944, file photo, American soldiers riding horses captured from retreating Germans are met by town residents as they enter the French town of Chambois, Normandy, France.

Cross, Blank make case for UW System buildings

MADISON — UW System leaders pressed Republican lawmakers Tuesday to approve spending $1.1 billion to repair and renovate buildings across the system, warning that they can’t continue to attract the talent employers need without modern facilities.

System President Ray Cross told reporters during a news conference in an aging UW-Madison lecture hall that 60 percent of the system’s buildings are between 45 and 70 years old and desperately need upgrades.

“Right now employers are screaming at us, saying you need to create more graduates, develop more talent. Students and employers expect modern learning environments,” Cross said. “These buildings are all decaying. They’re all coming to the ends of their natural lives.”

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ capital budget proposal calls for spending $2.5 billion on construction projects around Wisconsin, with about $1.1 billion slated for UW System upgrades, repairs and renovations. Projects would include $38 million in borrowing to upgrade classroom technology; $109 million for a new science and health sciences building at UW-Eau Claire; $77.6 million to renovate Camp Randall Stadium; $48 million to upgrade the Kohl Center; $40 million to renovate UW-Milwaukee’s student union; $83 million for a new science building at UW-La Crosse; and $6.7 million to renovate UW-Parkside’s fire alarms.

Republicans on the state Building Commission rejected the entire capital budget in March and sent the spending plan on to the Legislature’s finance committee without an endorsement, an unprecedented move that underscored the divide between Evers and the GOP. Typically the commission makes a bipartisan recommendation based on the governor’s proposal and the finance committee goes along with the bulk of the request.

Republicans control the committee and last week voted to give the system only about half of the $127 million in additional state aid Evers had proposed. Cross called the vote a “kick in the shins,” saying lawmakers had told him Evers’ request was reasonable.

The committee is expected to take up the capital budget perhaps as early as next week. Kit Beyer, a spokeswoman for Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, said Tuesday that Vos, a former student regent, understands the importance of investing in UW.

“He’s hopeful that legislators can find a way to fund many of the UW’s capital projects,” Beyer said.

Alec Zimmerman, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, didn’t immediately respond to an email.

Cross and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank held their news conference in UW-Madison’s 116-year-old Agricultural Hall. They addressed reporters in a lecture hall with wooden floors worn smooth and hundreds of battered wooden chairs. Blank said the HVAC system doesn’t work in the room and students don’t have room for their laptops and notebooks.

Blank argued that Evers’ budget calls for funding most of UW-Madison’s projects with donations and borrowing supported by funds generated by activities associated with the projects, such as ticket sales, rather than general tax dollars.

“We’re not asking the state to fund them,” she said.

The capital budget includes $3.1 million to renovate the lecture hall. The money would come from borrowing supported by tax dollars.

Asked whether he’s gotten any commitments from Republican lawmakers, Cross said only that “they understand our needs.” He said the finance committee’s decision to reduce state aid for the system still stings.

“I think my shins will heal, but I also know they’ll remain sore,” he said. “But these buildings won’t heal themselves. This is where the investment needs to be made in the University of Wisconsin.”