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At Explorer K-8, a garden gives hands-on lessons about water and plants.

The nine Explorer K-8 exceptional student education children gathered around a garden plot in anticipation of getting their hands dirty. Their teacher, Amy Ranger, and teacher assistants Shannon Asaff and Shannon Roberts joined the students.

They were outside on the warm, autumn morning to experience a practical side of their lessons on water and plants.

"I wanted the children to see the whole plant cycle," said Ranger, "from digging up the ground to planting the seeds, watching them grow, picking the vegetables and putting them on the table."

On this particular morning, the students and teachers had visiting helpers: John Korycki, with the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program at the Hernando County Cooperative Service, and Nesya Bliss, a Southwest Florida Water Management District representative.

Bliss talked about the water cycle. Korycki brought lettuce, onion, mustard, radish, peas and turnip seeds. He had basil, head lettuce, Brussels sprouts and tomato seedlings. He showed the children how to plant them. He made the trenches; then the children took turns carefully dropping the various-size seeds into the soil.

The students, Ranger said, will be outside daily to weed, water and watch. Faith Freshwater, 13, and Peter Rivera, 14, are seventh-graders, and both said they had some gardening experience. Peter said he hopes the school garden will help him "learn how to grow better and not mess up. I'm excited."

Their feelings were representative of the entire class.

"They've been so excited to do this," Roberts said. "It's out of the classroom, out of the ordinary."

It shows them a way to get vegetables other than from the grocery store, she explained.

While they were working, Explorer K-8 principal Dominick Ferello wandered over. The students get a sense of pride, he said, and activities such as this build responsibility and community.

"They're excited about what they're doing," Ferello said. "What a great opportunity to see something happen like this."