Juan Linn Math, Science Magnet  School
environmental center provided more than
just learning

September 23, 2010

by Gloria Spell, Victoria County Master Gardener Intern

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt

Students learned from square-foot gardening that required math skills. This teepee was built in a raised bed to grow foot-long bean poles. Students enjoyed picking beans inside and outside the teepee.
RIGHT: Every bit of space was used for learning, including water gardening, with this small pond that had goldfish and water plants in it.
Compost bins at the Juan Linn environmental center were a popular place of interaction for students who often would arrive early before school and work together to turn the contents.
There was a lot of social interaction
The flowerbeds and greenhouse were part of the outdoor classroom setting in the garden area between the main building and a new addition to the campus.
Editor's note: The Environmental Center at Juan Linn Math and Science Magnet School was spearheaded by Gloria Spell, who taught at the school and is now a Master Gardener intern. She understood the value of educating youth as a teacher and is now continuing to share that knowledge in the Master Gardener program.

This year will mark the closing of Juan Linn Math and Science Magnet School, located at the intersection of Navarro and Colorado streets, in Victoria. And it will also be the end of the Gloria Spell Environmental Center.

During my many years as a fifth-grade teacher at Juan Linn (1986-2002), I had the opportunity to start and develop an outdoor science area. This came about with much help from administrators, teachers, parents, students, local businesses and the Victoria County Extension Service.

The area included flower beds, compost bins, a greenhouse, ponds, animal pens and a deck. One of the first set of compost bins at Juan Linn School for youth training was part of an Extension Service "Don't Bag It" program.

Galvanized steel cages were built and donated by Victoria Machine Works. Also, in our early days, the Victoria County Master Gardeners had a "Container Gardening" school program that Master Gardener Helen Boatman initiated.

Later, several Eagle Scout projects provided us with a large deck, additional compost bins, a greenhouse and two water gardens. Their contributions to the gardens were greatly appreciated.

Since Juan Linn was a magnet school, the school received federal funding for its science and math programs. These funds allowed the means to purchase materials to develop an area devoted to outdoor education. Because so many animals were given to the school, a small barn was built to house animals. There were ducks, rabbits, chickens and even a pot belly pig or two. (Of course, there are many amusing stories that can be told involving these menageries.)


One of the first projects after Juan Linn became a magnet school was a beautification project for the school campus. Many of the old flower beds were overgrown and needed to be cleaned and repaired. Parent volunteers and teachers worked together on these projects to make improvements.

Before long, a new project began that improved the area between the main school building and a new addition. It included landscaping the area with flower beds, new walkways, a small greenhouse and even a small animal pen for chickens and ducks. This was the beginning of the environmental center.

In the beginning, the intent was to provide various science hands-on activities while the students worked in the garden area. Thus, it became outdoor classrooms, which allowed the students to explore, to create and to experiment.


"Watch Us Grow" became the theme for the environmental center. With Juan Linn being an inner city school, many students did not have opportunities to experience gardening or taking care of others.

Since the campus was small, every bit of available space was taken advantage of to get the students involved in outdoor education. The area along Navarro Street was devoted completely to flowering plants. A variety of tropical plants, such as gingers, lantana, Mexican heather, herbs, ferns and other shade loving plants were planted. Many of the new plantings encouraged bees and butterflies. Also, there were two small water-gardens with goldfish and water plants.


The small greenhouse was used to propagate cuttings and to start seedlings that could later be transplanted into the gardens. During the winter, the students were able to grow tomatoes and winter vegetables. Many science experiments were housed in the greenhouse.


The composting bins were a favorite with the boys and girls, especially early in the morning before school. There was a lot of social interaction that took place while they were turning the material in those compost bins. Some students arrived at school early to work with the composting and to do their morning chores.

Leaves from oak trees were raked and put into the bins. Later, the composted material was added to the gardens.


An additional area located in a corner of the playground area became the vegetable garden. Landscape timbers were used to create small, raised gardens cared for by fifth-grade students. The students were instructed on the proper way to sow seeds and to transplant nursery plants.


Groups of students were assigned an area to work in during Environmental Club days. Their assigned jobs were to take care of the plants, weeding and watering. This led to square-foot gardens, which involved applying math skills. Each student was assigned a 1-foot square of his own to grow a vegetable. Soon, the garden produced a variety of crops, such as potatoes, tomatoes, beans, squash, lettuce, onions, okra, peppers and several types of greens. A small teepee, built for growing foot-long pole beans, provided added fun picking them. Since Juan Linn was a year-round school for a number of years, the students had the opportunity to grow both winter and summer gardens.

The Environmental Club met every Wednesday afternoon with 15 or more students. They were divided into groups to work on the different projects emphasizing teamwork.

The benefits that came from all the activities in the center cannot be measured. Many of my former students have expressed how much they enjoyed the gardens and how it led them to gardening as an adult. This is a true measure of success.

Gardening is a stress reliever for children, as well as adults, and it worked wonders in school, yet provided environmental science and math training not obtained in a book.

Victoria Soil and Water Conservation District No. 346 Outstanding Conservation Teacher Award presented to Gloria Spell in 1995 and in 2002

Award of Merit for Outstanding Energy Education, Teacher Award for Conservation presented by Railroad Commission of Texas in 1997

Excellence In Teaching Award presented by H-E-B in 2002

Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Texas Region III Conservation Teacher of the Year presented in 2003
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.