NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Nature Thru Nurture (NTN), a partnership program between Rutgers University and New Brunswick Public Schools, is bringing out students inner gardeners.

The program, founded in 2010 by two Rutgers professsors, also strives to help students grow in the “STEM” fields: science, technology, engineering, and math. 

More than 100 students in the New Brunswick school system are currently involved in NTN program, meeting about twice a week during the school year and continuing to maintain the gardens during the summer months.

Rutgers Professor of Urban Planning and Policy Development Radha Jagannathan, and Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics Professor Michael Camasso spearheaded the project, with the help of a $50,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) from the city government.

“We figured we could supplement and compliment what students were learning in public schools,” said Jagannathan. “The NTN started in the summer and now it runs after school two days a week so we can be more involved with students.”

The idea behind the program is to help New Brunswick Public School students enhance their math and science skills through hands-on work creating beautiful gardens for all to enjoy.

“We love butterflies and gardens so we wanted to help the youngsters explore the nature around us,” Jagannathan said.

Students who are selected to participate in the program learn about the life cycles of insects and animals, solar energy, plant life and osmosis, cellular biology as well as forces and motion.

The program also offers opportunities to sharpen math skills by having students design built-to-scale models of the gardens that are proportioned and mapped.

The students are picked through a lottery system to ensure the recruits have varying interests, according to Jagannathan.

NTN has two components to their curriculum: indoor and outdoor.

“All outdoor learning areas have a water feature: a pond where students can figure out what animals and insects inhabit these ponds,” Jagannathan said. “They also have a vegetable and caterpillar garden where they learn about the different species of butterflies.”

The indoor learning component is comprised of labs and the study of subjects like biology and physics, depending on the student’s grade level.

Both undergraduate and graduate students from Rutgers are also drawn into the program to aid the younger students in the learning process.

“We choose students pursuing degrees in different fields. They are our staff and our teachers,” Jagannathan said.

The program also allows students to continue working with the gardens as long as they are interested.

In operation for about six years now, fifteen of the original students from the first group in 2010 have stayed with the program since they began in sixth grade, according to Jagannathan.

The NTN program is constantly evolving, according to its founders, trying to get environmental clubs started at local schools to get more students involved with the gardens.

“Every year we receive data from public schools. We’re constantly assessing the program to ensure it is having an impact,” Jagannathan said. “Our main objective is to better prepare students for college and raise awareness about science and math.”

The students who participate in NTN have higher grades on average, according to Jagannathan, but it is also rewarding to the two professors that founded it.

“This was something really close to both of our hearts,” Jaggannathan said. “We were lamenting that as a faculty member you have to publish, but we kept feeling we weren’t doing much for the community or anyone else.”

“When you walk into a room and all the kids exclaim ‘Dr. Jagannathan’ — that’s instant gratification. These kids grow right before your eyes.”