BLUFFTON—Barbara Pittman is planting the seeds of knowledge among fifth- and sixth-graders at St. Gregory the Great School.
Pittman, a language arts and drama teacher, received a $2,500 grant from S2TEM Centers SC for her project, “Heaven Scent: A Loofah Gourd Soap Project.” The goal, she said, is to demonstrate the real-world uses of science, technology, engineering and math — STEM —plus religion and the arts, or STREAM.
The project, which is part of the school’s year-long effort to achieve STEM certification, will make use of a garden on school grounds that the students and faculty are already tending, Pittman said.
“Two summers ago, we started a garden at our school as an offshoot of our reading program,” Pittman said recently. “Now that we’re trying to be a STEM school, I wondered how we could incorporate the garden.
“I was at the Bluffton MayFest last year and anything gardening started to catch my attention. So I saw the gourds, and I said ‘that might be fun to grow.’ Then further back in the booth were these loofah sponges. I thought loofahs were like a sea sponge! But after a little more investigation, I found out it’s a (gourd),” she said.
Not only that, but Pittman also discovered that the loofah gourds would be suited to the school schedule because the gourds must be overripe before they can be harvested, she said.
“Looking at that plant and seeing the products they made with the loofah sponge sparked an idea: How can we make this a STEM project and a model for a small business?” she said. “Maybe we look at this from seed to farmers market.”
In her grant proposal, Pittman outlined the project, stating that the students’ love for science, technology, engineering, arts/humanities, and math will be growing at St. Gregory the Great School as they embark on a year-long journey to create a sustainable loofah gourd soap business. The school garden will become an interdisciplinary tool that will provide a relevant opportunity for integrating the elements of STREAM with our standards-based curriculum.
Now that the grant has been approved, Pittman said students will plant the loofah this spring. Over the summer, volunteers will tend the garden; then when students return to school in the fall, they will develop a business model to make and market loofah products. In early 2019, the children will create an end-of-year profit/loss report.
“There are many different lens to look at the garden through: an engineer, a scientist, a mathematician, art and the creating of the product, packaging and marketing,” Pittman said. “And we look at language arts as well, as a component. Then we bring in the religion. The name of our project is ‘Heaven Scent’ — all good things come from heaven.”
Photo provided: (Left to right) Dana Thompson, from S2TEM Centers SC, stands with Barbara Pittman, Principal Chris Trott, and Kenna Alewine, also from S2TEM Centers SC, after they surprised Pittman with the grant award.