By Candace Birkelbach

Killeen Daily Herald

Having trouble getting a close look at that odd-looking spider in your backyard? Try sucking the creepy crawler up through a plastic tube into a film canister protected by gauze to catch him.

This is one of the activities taught to teachers who participate in the master gardening training program sponsored by the Texas Cooperative Extension. Four Killeen elementary school teachers participated in the program taught by certified master gardeners in order to become junior master gardeners, which enables them to teach gardening skills to their students.

The Killeen teachers participated in a four-day training program with nine other teachers from the county at the Bell County Annex in Belton; they are scheduled to graduate today. The curriculum included detailing the background of the master and junior gardener training programs, botany information, greenhouse tours, soil basics, compost, entomology, environmental horticulture, plant diseases, herb and vegetable gardens and urban gardening.

"The program is designed for its participants to teach gardening skills to kids that also meet the Texas Essential Knowledge Skills requirements for math and science," said Dirk Aaron, Bell County Extension agent for the Texas Cooperative Extension. "Kids love hands-on activities, and the program is designed for grades K through 6."

The course is first-come, first-serve and the $300 tuition is funded by the teachers' schools because it counts as their requirement for in-service training, Aaron said. "They also will receive a rebate of $100 after graduating and implementing the program into their classrooms to pay for gardening supplies."

The course's sponsor, the Texas Cooperative Extension, is an educational agency that receives support from Texas A&M University, the U.S. government and county governments.

The information offered by the Extension is provided by scientists and researchers at Texas A&M and other universities. Educators work to make the information relevant and useful to each county in which the agency teaches.

Laura Holz, of Fowler Elementary School, and Cathleen Dell, from Pershing Park Elementary, said they took the course because they all have gardens at their schools, and they wanted the opportunity to become master gardeners.

"By teachings kids about bugs, it takes the fear out that most kids feel about bugs," Dell said. "If they can identify between the good and bad bugs, they won't be scared of them anymore."

Holz believes that hands-on learning activities are better for students because they retain more when they are doing something, rather than just hearing about the subject.

Bell County master gardeners volunteer to instruct the program so that teachers can become certified master gardeners as well, Aaron said.

Contact Candace Birkelbach at or call (254) 501-7553

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