Local Spotlight: Pershing Middle School

What: Vegetables that taste good and teach well.

Now that school's back in session, Charles Coursey can go back to what he loves: teaching, gardening and teaching kids about gardening.

A history teacher at Pershing Middle School, Coursey loves to go beyond the books. In addition to leaders, villains, governments and struggles for independence, Coursey's students learn basic horticulture: what kind of soils to use, how much water plants need, how seeds germinate and grow, and, best of all, what homegrown produce tastes like.

Many students these days have no connection to the food they eat and no real idea where it comes from. School lunches don't usually help.Yet Coursey's students work before class and in the afternoons, sowing, planting, weeding and laughing. Who knew education could be so much fun?

For his part, Coursey not only takes his students through the full garden cycle, he also boils some of the vegetables on a hot plate in the classroom allowing the kids to sample the fruits of their own labor. The rest of the vegetables go off to the market to sell, especially over the summer when school is not in session. Proceeds go straight back into the program, which is always in need of gardening tools, gloves, mulches and soil.

This is a class the students love, one that gives them hands-on experience in life science with real-world lessons they can replicate at home. It is a pleasure to see that so much more comes out of the gardens at Pershing Middle School than just gorgeous vegetables.

Where: You'll find the products of the Pershing Middle School garden at the Rice University farmers' market on Tuesday afternoons. Currently there is a spread of fresh tomatoes, bell peppers, jalapenos, beans and okra. Wait a few months and you'll find leeks, beets and sweet onions.

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