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Kittery students work and learn at farm on remote learning days

7th and 8th graders at Shapleigh School in Kittery can be found across the street at Nooney Farms on their remote days.

KITTERY, Maine — Many students in Maine still have some remote learning days as distancing guidelines don't allow for students to fully come back five days a week.

"We plant squash, we plant zucchini, we plant tomatoes, we do a bunch of flowers," 8th grader Jackson Guay said.

Teacher Blayne Matty is using a creative idea to keep her students outside and engaged. She is using her gardening skills to teach them about different types of flowers, how to grow fruits, vegetables, and herbs, brings farmers, beekeepers, and horticulturists to also teach students new and informative things about working the field.

"Due to COVID protocols on spacing, we really weren't able to get especially 7th and 8th graders back in the building for increased in-person instruction," she said.

Most 7th and 8th graders at Shapleigh School in Kittery can be found across the street at Nooney Farms on their remote days.

"We are learning prices of things, where it comes from, what your food actually is," student Jack Downs said. "We had this guy teach us about bees one day."

So far, students have picked 2,000 pounds of food for local food pantries they have grown.

"We are also going to hopefully, provide some food to the school system as well, so I think that's a pretty cool full circle for students to be involved in," said Matty.

Nooney Farms is owned by the Kittery Land Trust. When Matty came up with the idea, both the school department and the land trust approved of the remote learning idea.

"In late April, the first school bus arrived at Nooney Farm and the program sprung to life. 75 students are enrolled in the program. They are divided into four groups, each coming to the farm one morning a week, bringing helping hands, smiles, and laughter all while gaining a new perspective on farming and local foods," Heidi Creighton, a volunteer at Kittery Land Trust said.

Matty said students are still learning different skills at the farm, "the amount of screen time kids are getting this year is just really hard to wrap your mind around so I mean, any opportunity I think for kids to be together, doing purposeful work, learning in hands-on, direct impact kind of way is really valuable."

"It's nice that I've been able to socialize, see people that I don't normally see, and hang out with them," Jonas Byrne said.

"My mom is a big gardener so she wants to learn some of the things that I am learning," added 8th grader Annie Krumsik.

Matty wants to keep the program going for other students even after remote school days come to an end. But for now, anything that can get her students outside and away from screens is important.

"I have been concerned about the mental health of our young adults. This is a crucial age for them developmentally to be with their peers," she said.