COLUMBIA — Students will have more time to enjoy the outdoors this fall when the Outdoor Classroom Program is launched in at least eight public elementary schools in Columbia.

The program will create outdoor spaces where students will learn how to cultivate vegetables, said Heather Gillich, education and volunteer coordinator for the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, which is overseeing the program.

Each school will have an outdoor classroom committee with teachers and parents interested in helping students get involved, Gillich said. The program will either be part of a class' curriculum or an after-school program.

The schools are: Benton, Midway Heights, Russell Boulevard, Lee, Blue Ridge, Ridgeway, West Boulevard and Rock Bridge elementary schools.

Two more elementary schools are likely to join but are unconfirmed, Gillich said.

The types of vegetables will vary from school to school based on how the program will fit in at the school, Gillich said. Some will have short-term crops such as radishes, and some will have longer-term crops such as kale and sweet potatoes.

The size of each school's garden will depend on the school's needs and desires. It could range from a single 4-foot by 8-foot bed to something much larger, Gillich said.

The Outdoor Classroom Program also will ask farmers to get involved with participating classrooms by implementing Slow Food Katy Trail's Harvest-of-the-Month lessons at the schools. Harvest-of-the-Month will have farmers visiting classrooms to teach students about the crop of the month.

The program is a result of a recent merger between the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture and the Columbia Outdoor Classroom Project. The project was a charitable organization that partnered with the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture. Now, the classroom project is part of the center's education program.

Schools interested in the program for spring or fall 2015 can apply in January.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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