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Water spared as learning thrives

(ran EO edition)

Not a whimper rose from the gardeners toiling in the midday heat.

Five students in Bernadette Christian's fifth-grade class at Brooker Creek Elementary School were planting, cultivating and weeding in their vegetable garden with Sam Skemp of Seminole early last week.

"Oh, it's a pleasant time," said Skemp, 77, a master gardener. "You're supposed to work up a sweat _ that way the garden gets watered."

Every drop counts in the gardens created and maintained by Skemp, Christian, her students and their parents. Their moisture-conserving methods recently earned them the community water-wise award for Pinellas County in the school category.

The award is sponsored by Florida Yards and Neighborhoods at the the Pinellas County Cooperative Extension Service, Pinellas County Utilities and Tampa Bay Water.

It recognizes landscapes that incorporate water-saving features such as choosing drought-tolerant plants, using mulch and low-flow irrigation methods such as soaker hoses. Pathway materials that let rain soak through are preferred, and water run-off should flow to the lawn or planting beds, not storm drains.

More specifically, Brooker Creek Elementary's water-conserving garden, located between the parking lot and the portable classrooms, was awarded a "water wise 2002" steppingstone with an inlaid flower.

The garden was created with the help of a grant from Southwest Florida Water Management District and features drought-tolerant shrubs and ground-covers blooming above mulched beds. Water flows through soaker hoses only to establish plants or during drought.

Tuesday, students took turns spreading mulch and watering new plants with a watering can.

Aakash Patel, 10, pointed out the steppingstone award in the gardens filled with passion vines, golden dewdrop cassia, blue-flowered plumbago, beach sunflower and lantana.

"I like doing this work and knowing you did something good," he said. "It really turned out good."

Christian, 54, a master gardener herself who also learned from Skemp at the extension service, said she teaches her students to grow plants from clippings, seeds and bulbs. She shows them the life cycle of butterflies in a garden outside their door, and when they study the Civil War, they can pick the cotton they've grown in the vegetable garden and see how hard it was to get the seeds out.

Looking out over the gardens, Christian said, "The frost will take all this down; it will be black and ugly. Then we'll clip and prune and it will start to regenerate itself _ because in Florida, the roots don't freeze."

High schoolers honored

The civic group East Lake 20/20 has recognized two East Lake High School students as students of the month.

Sophomore Jessel Nieves, son of Armando and Nilda Nieves, was nominated for September by social studies teacher Erin Closson. She said Jessel plays football, volunteers and is the epitome of a student leader.

"Jessel is always prepared for class and never once misses an assignment, even when his extracurricular commitments keep him at school well into the evening," she said.

Freshman Monica Gaudioso, daughter of John and Adair Gaudioso, was nominated for October by American Government Honors class teacher Pete Spennato. He said Monica consistently displays intelligence, diligence and full immersion in her studies.

"She is highly self-disciplined, courteous, and a joy to have in the classroom," he said.

_ If you have news or photos about East Lake schools, churches, businesses, neighborhood groups, community organizations or people, call Theresa Blackwell at (727) 445-4229, fax it to her at (727) 445-4206, e-mail or mail material to her at the North Pinellas Times, 34342 U.S. 19 N, Palm Harbor, FL 34684.