Snow is on the ground, a chill is in the air and winter has dug its paws deep into the Maine tundra, but that’s not stopping a group of students at Wentworth Intermediate School in Scarborough from enjoying the fruits of gardening.

Students in Joanne Stuart’s third-grade class are working on a gardening project that is teaching them the science behind growing vegetables and plants while learning how to exercise their minds and bodies through earth studies.

The 19 students, aided by several volunteers, last fall built several raised beds for future plantings in the courtyard just outside the classroom windows.

The students will plant their vegetables in the spring and see them grow throughout the summer.

“It’s going to be so exciting to see your work come to life,” said 9-year-old Natalie Taylor. “It’s nice to get to do it for the school instead of just at your house.”

“It’s going to be fun to plant the food, and I can’t wait to see it grow,” 8-year-old Grace Shaffer said.

But the students are not just dreaming about next spring’s crop while they’re watching the snow pile up on their raised beds outside their classroom window. They are conducting experiments in the classroom to see how plants grow.

So far they have grown potatoes, onions, rhizomes and corn in the classroom. They grow the plants and vegetables in small jars and see how they react to physical changes within the jars such as a lack of water.

“It was neat seeing which ones would bud, especially without us adding water,” said 8-year-old Kamal Durdag. “I couldn’t believe the potato and the onion continued blooming without adding more water. That’s because they keep water inside their bulbs and continue to grow.”

Scarborough resident Jennifer Winger introduced the program to the school early last year. She recently became a master gardener and wanted students at the school to understand the joys and benefits of gardening, she said.

“I believe that if you work with the earth, you’re going to gain a respect for it,” she said. “I want the kids to have this experience because it’s brought so much joy to me and I want them to understand why it’s so important to be respectful to the earth.”

Winger approached the school last year and asked if any teachers were interested in her idea of planting gardens on school grounds.

Stuart said she jumped at the chance.

“I think it’s a great idea for the students,” she said. “I truly believe that you can only learn so much from books, but having hands-on learning is just as, if not more, important to a child’s education.”

The project began the first day of school last August. Nearly 50 parents have volunteered to help and have raised $500 for materials to build the beds and buy the seeds.

Saco & Biddeford Savings Bank also donated $1,000 to the project.

“We are so thrilled to have Saco & Biddeford Savings offer to step up and help us,” Stuart said.

Laura Bustin, vice president and manager of the Scarborough branch, said the project was a “perfect match” with the bank’s mission of community involvement.

As soon as the ground is ready, the students will begin planting carrots, lettuce, cucumbers, pumpkins, tomatoes, potatoes and squash in the raised beds.

One student, Stuart said, recommended planting cocoa beans.

Other students are eagerly anticipating making goodies from their products.

“I can’t wait to make pumpkin bread,” said 8-year-old Charlie Piper.

Food from the garden will be used in the school’s kitchen, Winger said. The school is also thinking about selling some of its food for a school fundraiser.

As schools in Maine face impending state budget cuts, forcing many to cancel field trips, Wentworth’s gardening project is an inexpensive way to afford students the benefits of outside-the-classroom learning, Stuart said.

“This still gives them a chance to get outside and see firsthand how gardening and Mother Nature works,” she said. “This is something that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”

These raised garden beds, which Wentworth Intermediate School students and volunteers built last fall, will sprout several types of goodies such as carrots, squash and lettuce this spring. The gardens are part of a project at the school to teach students about the benefits of gardening.

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