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DECATUR — When Mary Anderson gets ready in the morning, she's dressed for the day.

And if her footwear happens to be flip-flops, and if she finds herself digging holes with a spade later in the day, so be it.

Anderson, principal of Garfield Montessori School, laughed off the situation this week when a barn-raising event was held at Enterprise School as part of the Decatur School District's Dwayne O. Andreas Ag Academy.

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Hank Shade checks out the barn area behind Enterprise School. A barn-raising event was held at the school. 

“The barn came this morning,” said Ashley Kitson, who teaches at Enterprise and is adviser for the first-, second- and third-grade Garden Club. “We have Kansas City Barbecue so we've got food for everybody and Mister Softee is coming and we're working on the sensory garden and finishing things in our vegetable garden, we're going to be planting our pumpkin field. Lots of different activities for families of French (Academy), Enterprise and Garfield.”

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The grounds of Enterprise School contain 15 acres, ample space for almost any ag-related activity. Enterprise and Garfield, both Montessori programs, will move together in August 2020 to the building that housed Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

Enterprise's building will become French Academy's new home, and French Academy's building on Monroe and Wood streets will become the second building of Dennis School, in the hope of relieving the long waiting list for families who live within the Dennis boundary. The other schools are magnet schools and draw students from throughout the district.

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Plants are sprouting on the grounds of Enterprise School in Decatur. The site is home to a new ag-focused project. 

The Ag Academy was founded thanks to a $1.7 million grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation in 2017. Two full-time agriculture teachers, one at each high school, oversee the academies, which include FFA chapters at the high schools and 4H clubs at the elementary and middle schools. The academy is named for the former Archer Daniels Midland Co. chairman, who presided over ADM from the 1970s to the 1990s.

Students at both Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools will get the most use out of the gardens and barns for their hands-on activities, but the Montessori method is very focused on the outdoors and practical skills like gardening, too.

Students and teachers worked in the garden plots alongside the school, while others admired the new barn and paddock behind the school, where small farm animals will be housed both for the 4H program and for the Ag Academy. A recent ordinance amendment by the Decatur City Council will allow the animals as part of the education program.

The sensory garden, for example, is designed specifically for the students who can't see, or hear, or have some disability, with different textures and smells and sights and sounds so that all of those students can enjoy it. The ground is hard-pack to make moving about with a wheelchair or walker easy, too.

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Mya Lofland, a third-grader at Garfield, and Chloe Davis, a second-grader at Enterprise, worked diligently under Kitson's direction to plant a variety in the sensory garden.

“We're planting plants for the school,” Mya said. “You can use your senses in this garden. They can see and smell and taste stuff that you can eat. If you can't see, you can hear the stuff and you can feel it.”

The animals will live on the grounds periodically to give students a chance to care for them and learn from them, said Zach Shields, executive director for the Decatur Public Schools Foundation.

“It's probably going to be mostly sheep and goats,” Shields said. “It's going to be a farmer's market, too. They'll be able to use the open spaces. We want it to stay really clean. It's going to have rubber mats and pine shavings. (The animals) won't be here all the time, just for 4H projects and production projects. The kids want to have some lambs.”

The barn includes space for classes to meet, too.

Amish craftsmen erected the barn from a kit the school district ordered, and the entire project is still within the budget allowed by the Buffett Foundation grant, Shields said.

“Isn't this wonderful?” said Ann Mathieson, principal of Enterprise. “On the garden side, the FFA students have been working every day and you can see the extensive planting they've done. (Younger students) will definitely benefit. We'll be learning and partaking of the barn, helping with the animals, having classes out here. And it's going to be a test run to see what (Montessori) can bring to Thomas Jefferson when we move there.”


GALLERY: Remember this? 21 photos of Decatur high school activities through the years

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter

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