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Outdoor instruction is part of a back-to-school plan at ESK

The Episcopal School of Knoxville is getting creative as the school year is about to begin.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — His official title is Head of School at the Episcopal School of Knoxville but Jack Talmadge is also an unofficial gardener at the school.

In fact, he planted the garden behind ESK and has been tending it himself. 

"Well this crop is a summer crop. Unfortunately we usually had the kids that plant this in the springtime but they were not here so I got the pleasure of putting in several squash plants we have butter beans we have okra lots of tomatoes we did red peppers we did bell peppers romaine lettuce. And we have a big strawberry patch as well and sunflowers to add a little bit of color," he said. 

Credit: WBIR
Tomatoes grow in the garden behind the Episcopal School of Knoxville

The tomatoes aren't quite ripe yet but they will be. Then the garden will become an outdoor classroom where kids will flourish.

"Welcome to our outdoor classroom. It gives them the opportunity to explore to grow to actually witness, science and action, and it gives him a chance to be outside, which is perfect for this time when we're in a COVID-19 situation," he said.  "Obviously if we can get six feet apart we will have a mask break. So it will be a perfect opportunity for them to take that and just work with a few kids at a time and let them have it in the garden and off with the chickens."

Chickens?

"Our third grade does a chicken project that's part of their gardening and they hatch these eggs, and those that remain hens will get to stay with us and they become layers and so they come out daily, or they all have their muck boots and they will take care of the straw the cleaning and they also get to collect the eggs on a daily basis," he said. 

Credit: WBIR
Students usually care for chickens and gather eggs during the school year

That kind of hands-on learning sticks with the students. 

"You know, it's amazing. Kids learn a whole lot more than you would think," he said. "It's eye opening for them for the first time they are seeing seeds sprout and blossoms bloom and vegetables grow and then they get to taste it, and they get to actually sample exactly what they put together when it started out just as a seed." 

Credit: WBIR
JackTalmadge is the ESK Head of School and also the temporary gardener

Gardening this summer at ESK has been therapeutic for Jack Talmadge.

But among the fresh squash, beans, and tomatoes something is missing. 

"What it needs there are children, again, that's the life of the school. So having the kids back and interacting with the animals and interacting with the plants and just seeing, you know their eyes light up when they can actually achieve and dig in the dirt get their hands dirty and make something happen," he said. 

Classes resume at the Episcopal School of Knoxville August 17. 

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