Making Box Tops into gardens

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Delfine Baca aims to incorporate students with disabilities throughout every lesson in her Rio Grande Elementary School classroom.

"Every chance I get," said the second-grade teacher.

For her efforts, the 15-year-teacher at Rio Grande was awarded with more than $500 of Box Tops for Education from General Mills and Belen's Walmart.

"I can't believe it. I do it, because I love it and love the students," she said.

The Belen teacher plans on using that money to create an additional raised garden bed for disabled students to plant vegetables and flowers with their peers in garden beds scattered throughout the Eastside School Road school. Baca estimates it will be built in July.

In mid-April, Baca was notified by General Mills sales representative Tiny Ayala and Walmart's assistant manager Jason Shannon that she would be honored at a Walmart staff meeting.

"When the students are learning, it gives me great joy. But to be honored, I'm blown away and very grateful," she said.

At the meeting, Baca received a $500 certificate from General Mill's fund-raising program and a small box packed full of 155 Box Tops coupons collected by Walmart employees.

In total, Baca received $515.50 to use in her classroom any way she pleased. "When they told me, I kept trying to think, 'Where can I spend this money to benefit all of my students?'" she said.

She jotted down a priority list of events and items she wanted to purchase, including additional books, field trips and an outdoor classroom but, in the end, she chose a raised garden bed.

Gardening connects students with the origins of their foods, which many don't know come from farms.

"There's care involved. There's work involved," she said. "It gives real life situations and they can understand it if they have a hand in growing it."

Rio Grande students begin this growing experience annually on Earth Day, when they plant vegetables and flowers, which they then harvest and eat. Each grade level shares one of seven garden beds.

Baca wants to purchase one garden bed for each class if there are funds leftover from this project.

General Mills is awarding certificates year round, in partnership with the Belen Walmart, to illustrate how community members can earn extra cash for local schools by clipping Box Tops coupons.

Schools can "generate hundreds of thousands of dollars," Ayala said.

"What I'm trying to do in our community is bring awareness to the public of how underused this program is," she said.

This is Belen Walmart's second year to honor a teacher with these funds, Shannon said.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.