It started with a classroom door-decorating contest. Rules posted by the contest organizer, school librarian Barbara Diebold, were short and simple: the door design had to reflect a favorite children's book or books, and the art work was to be executed by the children themselves.
Interest and excitement ran high, so that Follow Through School at Masten and East Utica soon exhibited doors in a rainbow of colors with a collection of storybook characters that would rival those of the Disney Studios.
And then there was Carol Bauda's first-grade class and its contest entry: a collage of handmade gardening books and a sprinkling of seeds. An accompanying sign explained that Ms. Bauda and her 27 students had not only read about seeds but also had sprouted their own seeds and then had made their own handbooks "to teach others how to grow seeds, too."
Well, the door was very attractive and creative, and it did win a prize, and that may have been the end of it, except that it turned out to be just the beginning.
Ms. Bauda told us that her initial objectives were simple enough -- just to read and talk about seeds and how they germinate so that the children could get a good idea of how plants grow. As part of their first assignment, she asked her students to search for some seeds at home, and they complied by bringing in pine cones, pepper seeds, lentil seeds, marigold seeds, beans, pumpkin seeds and popcorn.
The class compared the different types of seeds and then, of course, incorporated them into their door design.
Being a firm believer in the hands-on approach to learning (and also being an avid amateur gardener), Ms. Bauda then decided to do some actual sprouting with her class.
"We first tried grapefruit seeds, and they didn't work out too well. We even tried growing some beans, and only some of them germinated (a couple of bean stalks still stretch up a corner of the room). But it's the lentil sprouts that really took off," she said."I liked working with lentil seeds with the children because they're so easy.
"All we did was soak the lentil seeds in water in a big glass jar and change the water every day. During this time, the sprouts needed no light, and after three or four days, all the seeds had sprouted."
This could have been the end to a successful lesson, except that the children had learned the lesson well, and they turned out to be very good at growing sprouts. Certainly, they had more sprouts than they could possible consume by themselves.
So what's a successful group of growers supposed to do with a bountiful harvest of sprouts? Sell them!
"One child came up with the idea of selling our extra sprouts, and we decided to sell them for snacks. We also decided to use all our profits for a new area rug for the class," said Ms. Bauda.
In this day and age, though, even first graders know you can't sell without a successful ad campaign, so from science and nature, Ms. Bauda's class stepped into the world of advertising and consumerism.
After some concentrated brainstorming, the children decided on several slogans for their ad campaign. "No sugar added", "No preservatives", "Cheap", "Nutritious", and "No cholesterol" became the main selling points.
Their ad campaign was so successful that these budding entrepreneurs were quickly able to raise their original selling price of 15 cents a bag to a two-tiered pricing program of 15 cents a bag for children and 20 cents for adults.
All this activity has taken several weeks, and Ms. Bauda and her first graders now have their first-prize ribbon, a new classroom rug and are eagerly awaiting their first-prize award -- an ice cream party.
Better yet, though, are all those intangibles they just happened to pick up while dabbling in some science, health, art, language arts and economics during the project.
And to think that it all started with a contest, 27 very astute first graders, an enterprising teacher who just happens to love gardening, and about 5 cents worth of seeds.