No one could have been more thrilled than Caroline Gayheart, a Pre-K teacher at Frances Meeks Elementary (FME), when she got the call about their newly-approved agricultural program. An Ohio native, Mrs. Gayheart grew up in a farming community and still lives a farm life on five acres in Ludowici with her husband and four boys.
In her eagerness to make her new endeavor as successful as possible she contemplated what she would want her own children to experience in an AG class. She decided that at the end of class she wanted the students to be as tired as if they had been at PE, and to find a wholesome connection to the outside world around them. “My own boys need to be outside, getting their hands dirty; they need to be engaged and challenged. I plan to do this with the classes for all of the kiddos,” Mrs. Gayheart adds.
To create an enduring knowledge and teach the skills she knew she would need certain resources. With a solid goal in place, her next step was to find said resources. Her vision included a greenhouse, growing area, and chicken coop. She was given a plot of green space and a tiny budget to get the project underway.
Fortunately, because of the generous nature of this community, finding the assets she would need quickly become a reality. Mrs. Gayheart applied for dozens of grants and was gratefully awarded a sizable donation from Coastal Electric Cooperative. And that was just the start of the help she would receive from other businesses in The Hill. “Once I found the people who had a heart for this, it was overwhelming because these guys didn’t want to just make it decent, they wanted it to be spectacular,’’ she says! Relieved that her vision wasn’t being marginalized by budget constraints, she laughs when she says, “The chicken coop turned out like the Taj Mahal!”
The 900 students who filter through her class have aptly dubbed it “The Farm.” And, as far as the structure of the class and what the students are doing each day, Mrs. Gayheart explains that there’s not much of a curriculum to follow, but she’s tapping into her farming experiences and is pleased with how things are going. Currently, she’s rotating each grade level through different jobs—whether it’s inside classroom instruction or hands-on outside. “Each class will get a chance to do every job, and that includes classes of exceptional students. I see kids that are excited and can’t wait to get to class to do their part.” So far in the coop, they have the six chicks they started with and a few more in the incubator. The class has also prepped the greenhouse to raise carrots, peas, beets, and lettuce.
What drives Mrs. Gayheart in her role in this project? Knowing her students are getting the opportunity to be exposed to the joys of farming and the great outdoors, even though they live in a semi-urban type area. “It is a great way to teach discipline, promote hard work, and of course, to enjoy the fruits of their labors.”
Mrs. Gayheart is still graciously accepting donations toward “The Farm” and has an Amazon Wishlist for those who want to help.
For Mrs. Gayheart, this is just the beginning of what she believes will be a priceless investment for the school and the community, and she’s honored to be able to bring “The Farm” to life!
Frances Meeks Elementary and Mrs. Gayheart give a special thanks to those who generously donated their time and resources:
Richard Doty, Trademark Construction
Seth Norwood, Norwood Construction
Kevin Smith, Shoreline Landscape
Robbie Oglesby, A Plus Quality Construction
Richmond Hill Police Department
Plantation Lumber & Hardware
Savannah National Wildlife Refuge through the US Fish and Wildlife Service