Odessa Christian students taking to the soil

Permian Basin Master Gardener Kenny Dragoo poses for a photo in the atrium at Odessa Christian School. He is teaching middle school students about horticulture, its importance and how it ties in with the Bible. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Throwing in some Biblical principles, Permian Basin Master Gardener Kenny Dragoo is teaching students at Odessa Christian School about all things green, growing and edible.

The horticulture class was added to the school’s electives as part of middle school science, taught by Deborah Johnson. Things geared up in the fall semester when Master Gardener Nancy Halfacre talked to the students about flowers and Dragoo talked about gardening. Johnson provided instruction on other sciences.

The last day before Christmas break, plans were to bring in some seeds and have the students choose what they wanted to plant, Johnson said. About the same time, Dragoo had said it would be nice to have a horticulture class.

Johnson said there had been conversation about an after-school club because the interest was “huge.”

“I’ve got 10 students and I’ve got probably 40 more wanting to be in here,” Dragoo said.

Other students are being exposed to it through science classes, Johnson said.

Dragoo said he is bringing in people to help beautify the atrium, the flowerbeds around the sign and have a garden in the back.

“Probably this year it will be mostly container gardening,” Dragoo said.

Sometime in mid-to-late April, he added that he’s hoping to have a plant sale as a fundraiser.

“Almost every one of them have said they wanted to come up and volunteer their time to work in the garden, so I’m going to be up here during the summer. We’re going to harvest everything we can there and have a vegetable market for another fundraiser for the school. That’s my plan,” Dragoo said.

While school is going on, they plan to take the harvest to the cafeteria and let the students sample the vegetables.

“That way we know they’re getting nourished. Good, fresh, nourishing food,” Dragoo said.

He added that he highly recommends everybody get into a gardening class.

Students in Kenny Dragoo’s horticulture class at Odessa Christian School pose for a photo during a recent class. They are enjoying learning about plants, fresh fruit and vegetables. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

“In Andrews, I’ve got the Junior Master Gardener program. I started it up last year and we’re doing it again this year. I’ve got adult gardening classes going on over there. I wish I could start up a 4-H Junior Master Gardener program over here, but I can’t. I can only do one county at a time,” Dragoo said.

He said he might be able to talk Halfacre into offering a Junior Master Gardener course.

Johnson said a lot of the students were gardening at home.

“I had no idea that the children were so into it,” she added. “The plants they took home, whether they grew or not, they’ve been writing about it and everyone said how exciting it was for it to come up. When they didn’t make it, it was sad but they really invested into those little seeds and they were so excited. Some people (have) been telling me they are two and three feet tall,” she added.

Along a window in the classroom, there are starter plants. Dragoo said they will be transplanted.

“That’s what they wanted to grow. I’ve got some different vegetables over there, some flowers (and a few herbs)… They’ve started them all from seeds and a few herbs. Matter of fact, I’ve purchased enough seed trays to do over 6,000 potential plants,” Dragoo said.

“I’m hoping to have a huge plant sale and whatever doesn’t sell in the plant sale, I’ll bring back in here. We’re going to plant it in the garden. I’ve got over 500 cattle buckets (donated to me). I’m going to be bringing some of those up here and that’s what we’re going to use for our garden for this year. I’ve got to figure out where the watering system is out there. I’ve got to send in some soil samples there, so I know what amendments I need to do out there because that soul out there is horrible. It’s just sand,” he added.

Dragoo said he plans to put some vegetables, herbs and flowers in the atrium, which also has turtles and other animals.

They are bringing in horticulturist Debbie Frost to help design a revamped atrium.

Students in Dragoo’s class say they got involved because they were interested in plants, although one student said it sounded better than other electives.

Noah Morris, an eighth-grader, said he liked the idea of being able to be involved with plants because it’s cool.

Eighth-grader Shane McKinney said he enjoys the class because he gets to do hands-on stuff “instead of sitting back and reading and answering questions.”

Morris said he is looking forward to growing watermelons.

All the students noted that fresh fruits and vegetables taste better than those from the store.

Being able to garden boosts classroom engagement, as well.

“It boosts you’re wanting to be here, actually looking forward to the class,” Morris said.

The class also connects the Bible to gardening.

“It’s crazy when you actually start looking at it how everything is kind of related in some way,” McKinney said.

The students said Dragoo is one of their favorite teachers.

“It’s not about me. It’s about the kids. They need to learn this as much as anybody needs to learn it. God has just given me the ability to do it and the time to do it,” he added.