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The PNC Foundation announced it has provided a $20,000 grant in support of the Dennis-Millikin Laboratory School's Community Garden Project, a reflection of a successful ongoing partnership between Dennis School and Millikin University. The partnership, now in its second year, is designed to create a university-affiliated lab school that enhances the 21st century project-based, real-world learning for Dennis students and provide increased teacher training opportunities for Millikin education students. The Community Garden Project also specifically demonstrates how education of this type can help revitalize the neighboring community and increase parental involvement in learning.

"PNC supports creative community partners who make learning innovative and engaging," said Doug Stewart, PNC Bank regional president for central Illinois, speaking on behalf of the PNC Foundation. "The Dennis-Millikin Lab School Garden Project allows for families to work together, builds stronger relationships in the community, and expands the community garden as an exciting and engaging educational opportunity in the West End neighborhood."

Located in available greenspace at the northwest corner of the Wood Street and Fairview Avenue intersection, the community garden will be a center for learning into the fall of the upcoming school year. This program was specifically designed to be an evening event so Dennis family members can more easily participate, encouraging the building of relationships among the children's families, Dennis teaching staff and Millikin students.

"It is an exciting time for Dennis-Millikin Lab School," said Sue Ellen Phillips, a fourth-grade teacher at Dennis and one of two teachers leading the program. "The benefits of this project-based learning have been amazing so far. My goal is to have centers where small groups of students will learn. This also is an opportunity for parents to work together and get to know each other. The parents have been a big help this summer by constructing the garden boxes, watering, painting and doing any other odd jobs."

"It is our hope that these activities lead into more parental involvement next year. I am excited to bring classes to the garden area in the fall. It will be a great outdoor classroom. I hope the summer garden club will continue for many years."

Phillips collaborated on planning the garden activities with two Millikin student interns, senior Olivia Heisner, an environmental studies major, and spring graduate Rachel Spenn. Spenn, an education major, was a student teacher for Phillips in 2012.

"This project really does enhance the learning experience for Millikin education students," said Dr. Nan Gaylen, director of the university's School of Education. "The Community Garden project is an authentic example of how teachers work with families and collaborate with them in the education of each child. It will also show our students how a community works together to improve the lives of all children."

This innovative approach to hands-on teaching and learning began in early June, with sessions held each Monday and Thursday evening from 6-7 p.m. through July. Each session, designed to accommodate up to 50 children, includes a curriculum centered around a particular area of growing the garden. Topics include bees and pollination, worms, creating and using compost, etc. The sessions also include a garden maintenance component, allowing the families time to water, weed and harvest.

The PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group (NYSE: PNC), actively supports organizations that provide services for the benefit of communities in which it has a significant presence. The foundation focuses its philanthropic mission on early childhood education and community and economic development, which includes the arts and culture.

To view images of the Community Garden Project, visit www.facebook.com/GrowingDennisLab.
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Millikin University - Decatur, IL
Millikin University - Decatur, IL