Trumbull agriscience students foster second grade’s plants

TRUMBULL — Studying the environment can be a pricey proposition.

That’s what Liz Doherty, science program director for Trumbull elementary schools, learned last year when the district purchased plants and pillbugs for a second grade unit on studying ecosystem diversity.

The materials she needed cost $75 per second grade classroom. With 25 classes to serve, the costs added up quickly. To top it off, the plants were so small and fragile when they arrived, Doherty said she couldn’t imagine the students even being able to work with them.

Then she got an idea.

Doherty got in touch with Lauren Bespuda, a plant science teacher at Trumbull Agriscience & Biotechnology Center. The center educates high school-aged students on animal sciences, plant sciences and environmental biotechnology. She decided to give the plants to Bespuda and have the plant science students foster them in school’s greenhouse, so they would be bigger and easier to study.

“We’re trying to give students the best experience we can and save some money,” Doherty said.

Unfortunately, most of that first crop didn’t survive the year. But this year, Bespuda and Doherty tried again. The plants were sent directly to the agriscience school, where the students promptly re-potted them, in the hopes that it would help the plants grow.

After roughly a week, Bespuda said, they were given back to the elementary schools, which will return them at the end of the unit. Then, they will go into the greenhouse, where they will receive daily care and be allowed to grow so that next year’s students can use the same plants.

If the project is successful, Doherty said, it would save the district $63 per second grade class, for a total savings of roughly $1,575. The arrangement also benefits both the agriscience students and the elementary school students.

When the plants — which include succulents, ryegrass and others — are given a chance to grow “our students get the benefit of not looking at these tiny small plants. They’re look at big plants in bloom,” Doherty said.

Larger plants are easier to study, Bespuda said.

“If the plants have multiple years of growth, they will be able to view the parts and pieces better than with brand new plants,” she said.

As for the agriscience students, Bespuda said, taking care of the elementary school students’ plants gives them some hands on experience.

“They like being out in the greenhouse doing something with their hands,” she said. “It was also kind of a community service type activity, in addition to the typical greenhouse experience.”

All of the students involved in caring for the plants are high school seniors, and Bespuda said she’s trying to imbue them with a passion for this kind of work.

“My hope is that, later in life, even if they don’t go into the plant sciences, they will be able to care for something,” she said.