Pocatello school plans potato semester

John O'Connell/Capital Press Larry Bathe, driver of the Great Big Idaho Potato Truck, eats a baked potato with students Miles Marshall, left, and Brianna Sander from the Pocatello Community Charter School on Sept. 23. The truck visited the school to help first- and second-graders start a semester-long unit on potatoes.

POCATELLO, Idaho — For a full semester, every subject taught to first- and second-graders at the Pocatello Community Charter School will feature potatoes, with strong industry support for the unique curriculum.

During math class, Charter School teacher Kelly Bolander explained students will weigh or measure spuds. Spelling words may include “tuber” or “photosynthesis.” Students will diagram the potato life cycle in art class and raise potato plants to observe for science class.

Even the classes’ annual community service project is centered on spuds — students will donate thousands of pounds of produce gleaned from recently harvested fields to the local food bank.

The charter school launched the unit on Sept. 23, with a baked potato feast and a visit by the Idaho Potato Commission’s Great Big Idaho Potato Truck.

The school’s educational model, called expeditionary learning, gives students an in-depth look — spanning every course — at a designated subject for each semester. Because the learning model also emphasizes first-hand experiences, the first- and second-grade “expedition,” titled the Magical Potato, includes field trips to the Wada Farms fresh packing facility in Pingree, the Idaho Potato Museum in Blackfoot, the Lamb Weston potato processing plant in American Falls and to area farm fields to witness the spud harvest.

“When we started this years ago, it was because we were looking for a compelling issue around the area,” Bolander said. “And we can have access to farmers and their fields and have a service component that makes it a more worthy expedition.”

Teacher Whitney Griggs said a favorite activity for students visiting potato cellars is to “climb to the top and slide down the potato mountain.”

Lance Funk Farms in American Falls and Miles Brothers Farms in Grace are regular participants in the unit, welcoming students for gleaning and harvest visits.

Seed grower Everett Miles admits to dumping extra potatoes in the chosen field before the students come to glean, ensuring they have a sufficient volume for the food bank. He also sends each child home with a bag of spuds.

“It’s a fun day for the kids,” Miles said. “They love coming.”

Teaching assistant Lisa Barthlome said the Miles brothers are her husband’s uncles. Her daughter, Sydnee, a seventh-grader at the school, is well-versed in the farming operations and leads the tours.

“It’s really educational for kids in Idaho to learn what goes on in their own backyard,” Barthlome said.

At the semester’s end, the school will host an expedition night, during which first- and second-graders will display their potato-related work and the plants they raised.

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