Teacher of the Day: Ms. Sampietro, Who Spent the Summer Building a ‘STEM Garden’ for Her School

Michele C. Hodge / Twitter
This article is one in a series at The 74 that profiles the heroes, victories, success stories and random acts of kindness to be found at schools all across America. Read more of our recent inspiring profiles at The74million.org/series/inspiring.
As water dribbles through a funnel, down a plastic tube, and empties into a plastic bin, a tangible knowledge of gravity is seeping into the curious minds of Kari Sampietro’s kindergarten students in Petaluma, California.
This tactile learning experience is taking place in La Tercera Elementary School’s new STEM garden.

Sampietro dedicated her summer to building the garden, which features a dozen stations including a make-believe food stand, a miniature fairy dwelling and a weather station.

There are also sensory bins filled with materials of varying textures such as marbles, rice, rocks and dirt.

“It’s stimulating for them to feel the different materials, how dirt feels in their hand, what water beads feel like,” Sampietro told The Press Democrat. “It’s just to stimulate their senses, and then they manipulate the materials with different tools. How can I pick this up? How many can fit in a measuring cup?”

Over the summer, locals from the community noticed the project as they drove by the school. They weren’t sure exactly what was being created, so they would stop by to check it out or to donate materials they thought might be useful.

Giant wooden spools donated by a local business became tables painted to look like toadstools. A white raised garden bed is enjoying its retirement as a sandbox, thanks to a generous neighbor.

And yes, the STEM garden will also feature vegetables found in a traditional garden.

A master gardener is scheduled to plant potatoes, lettuce, squash, celery and beans. In the meantime, students have given gardening a go on their own by weaving plants through an old fence.

“What our challenge is, and the opportunity here is, is to provide kids with the opportunity to be collaborative,” Principal Michele Crncich Hodge said. “And actually, with this kind of garden, you don’t have to look too far. It invites them to naturally collaborate, and that’s the beauty of it.”

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