OGDEN -- The sky was gray and threatening Tuesday morning, but Terri Ashment's Gramercy Elementary School fourth-grade class assessed the cumulus clouds and moved forward with their mission.
They made a run for the Gramercy Giving Garden, planted last spring and still providing tomatoes and onions for salsa, but their focus would be tulip bulbs called Red Emperors, an early spring variety able to survive winter's final flurries.
Thanksgiving Point, in cooperation with the Utah State University Extension Service, provided 186 bulbs each to about 60 Utah schools. The program started four years ago in just three schools.
"Part of our science curriculum is to study soil, and today the lesson is hands-on about how soil looks and how it feels," Ashment said.
When a dark-haired girl unearthed a worm and let out a little shriek, Corinne Mayberry, the instructor sent by Thanksgiving Point to help the young gardeners, explained the value of worms in keeping a garden healthy.
A brown-haired boy held a large wiggler close to his face before dropping it gently into the hole he had dug for his bulb.
"Hasta la vista, worm," he said as he replaced the soil.
Next up to plant bulbs was Kevin Bruckman's class of third-graders, who crowded farther into the garden, picking their way around the ripening pumpkins.
"Gardening is not an immediate thing," said Bruckman, who last spring helped his fourth- and fifth-graders plant the seeds that grew into the current harvest.
"The kids have to have patience. Before this, many of them had little idea that a small seed from last year could grow into one of these pumpkins."
Lots of Gramercy kids took their enthusiasm home for the summer and planted gardens there as well, spreading the knowledge of and appreciation for fresh produce, Bruckman said.
As part of their school studies, students have practiced math by measuring plant growth. They have learned science by discussing varieties of plants, adaptation to the growing environment and seasons to harvest, Bruckman said.
"Is that rain?" asked a blonde, ponytailed third-grader. In the light drizzle, the group lined up for a quick and orderly march back into the school.
Mayberry hurried toward a school awning for shelter from the storm, which quickly grew into a heavy downpour.
"The kids have so much fun, and they learn so much," she said.
"The garden teaches them about math and science. They learn to observe nature and the world around them. They learn to measure time by the seasons and see how things change over months.
"It's so amazing to see the kids experience nature and have their 'a-ha moments,' and begin to connect it all," she said. "They begin to see how time changes the world, and how they fit into the world.
"And it's nice that we missed the rain."
At that moment, two dozen or so shouting third-graders charged out of the warm, dry school and into the pounding rain led by their bellowing teacher.
"Do we wait by the garden?" he yelled after spotting Mayberry.
"I'll be right there," she replied, sauntering back into the storm.