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RHIT Helps After-school Program Transform Terre Haute Neighborhood at Its Roots

Monday, October 23, 2017

Red fluid drips from where the long, thin white radish was cut in half, as third grader Carmen McMurray watches with wide eyes.

“It looks like a chopped-off finger!” she exclaims moving back slightly in her tiny chair.

The “bloody” white radish is just one way Rose-Hulman professor Mark Minster is teaching 20 elementary school students about the natural world in an after-school program known as Ryves Up! – named for Terre Haute’s Ryves neighborhood. In this example, the kids were asked to predict what would absorb more water, a piece of celery or a white radish. The water was colored red to make it more visible as it traced its way up the plants’ veins.

After guessing – most of them correctly – that the celery would absorb more water, the junior scientists were released from their classroom to race to their outdoor garden where they are growing pumpkins, corn, beans and herbs. Here, under a hot afternoon sun, they observe how their plants are doing, answer a few questions about optimal watering times, and then get busy showering their crops.

“I’m a plant!” shouts fourth-grader Verity Wigington as she finds her way under a cascade of water streaming from the official Ryves Up! water hose.

In addition to their “three sisters garden” (corn, beans and pumpkins), the students are growing a butterfly garden filled with native flowers. They are also creating their own compost from leftover food scraps collected in the course of their twice-weekly, two-hour class sessions.

“This all started because I got interested in the neighborhood,” Minster says.

The Ryves neighborhood has a higher-than-average poverty rate for the Terre Haute area and nearly all of the pupils at Ben Franklin Elementary, where the program is taking place, receive free or reduced-price lunches.

Teaching grade schoolers about the environment, healthy living, math, science and art after they have already endured a full day of school is no easy task, but Minster and a team of students enrolled in Rose-Hulman’s HERE program are taking on the challenge. They want to teach kids where food comes from while introducing them to basic scientific concepts, such as hypothesizing, observing and keeping a written record.

Ryves Up! will continue for the full school year. The kids in the program were selected based on their interest. Each child’s parent or guardian is expected to volunteer to help during at least one class session. Funding for the program is coming from the Whole Kids Foundation, Annie’s Grants for Gardens, Vectren and the Wabash Valley Community Foundation. You can follow the program’s progress on Facebook or at the Ryves Up website