Posts

Interview with an Environmental Educator: Joining Together

As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future.”

Elise Dillingham: Program Coordinator, Desert Research Learning Center

What is your professional role and how does Environmental Education help you do that work? 

My professional role is the Program Coordinator of the National Park Service’s Desert Research Learning Center (DRLC). The DRLC is home to a diverse team of scientists that oversee the inventory and monitoring of natural resources at Sonoran Desert national parks (11 total). In addition to conducting research, DRLC staff utilize environmental education to promote the scientific understanding, protection, and conservation of Sonoran Desert national parks. Environmental education enables us to share the marvel of the Sonoran Desert, facilitate science communication, and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. 

Who is your primary audience in your work and what outreach do you offer that audience? 

The DRLC’s primary audience is high school and college students ranging in age from 14-22.  We provide internships, citizen science and volunteer opportunities, and programs for student groups.

Why is Environmental Education important to the work that you do?

Environmental education is important to our work because it enables engagement of diverse audiences outside traditional land management realms. It elevates the visibility of science in the National Park Service and increases awareness of conservation issues facing national parks. At the DRLC, environmental education enables scientists to reach broad audiences beyond our peers, which builds support for science and reinforces its relevance.

What are your entry points for engaging your audiences in Environmental Education, Environmental Studies, science, etc.?

Sonoran Desert flora and fauna that exist in urban settings are an entry point for environmental education. We often use these familiar and seemingly mundane species to open doors into the wondrous natural history and ecology of the Sonoran Desert.

 

Who do you consider underrepresented audiences and what are the challenges you face in reaching them?

Students with disabilities are one underrepresented audience that we have actively been trying to reach. Accessibility in outdoor settings is one challenge that we must overcome when engaging with this audience. To help overcome this, we offer programs designed for people with disabilities and have increased wheelchair-accessible activities and amenities at the DRLC. 

How can we all do better?

I believe the strength of the EE community lies in the knowledge of educators, the curiosity of students, and the passion of both. These attributes foster critical thinking and innovation, which are desperately needed to combat our planet’s climate emergency. As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future. The more we collaborate and play off each other’s strengths, the better.

Licensing Outdoor Preschool?

By Diona Williams, M.Ed. ECSE

The state of Washington is the first pilot in the United States that aims to finally license outdoor, nature-based, and forest preschools. This is in reference to schools that spend the majority of their days outside the four walls, exploring natural spaces, regardless of the weather. You can see all the outdoor, nature, and forest-based schools in the United States on the Natural Start Alliance‘s website; they are the Early Childhood Environmental Education program of our partner organizations, NAAEE.


Currently in the United States, there are no licensing systems in place for outdoor preschools as much of the licensing process is build around the school’s physical building. Washington is leading the way in confronting this issue, because without licensing, outdoor preschools face huge barriers for making their program accessible to everyone. Just like a regular preschool licensing system, Washington’s licensing pilot program has a set of standards that the schools will all have to meet. Why might this Washington experiment be important to us down here in Arizona?

Here’s an example from my life: As an owner/lead educator of a nature preschool in Arizona, this pilot program is ground breaking for our state. Our licensing systems have many rules that simply don’t align with foundational practices in outdoor and garden-based learning. Imagine you are a teacher in the state of Arizona. You start a school garden and want to grow tomatoes because they do so well in the sun here. Unfortunately, in our current system, this plant is categorized as poisonous so licensed facilities cannot have them in a children’s garden. This happened to me, and this is the reality of licensed programs throughout the state of Arizona. Many preschool teachers express frustration at the limited vegetation their programs can grow in their school gardens or have in the green spaces their program goes to.

So, how does the state of Arizona move forward? Of course, my initial thought it’s time to start our own pilot program. I think this starts with reviewing and surveying the specific gardening and outdoor time limitations for licensed programs such as child care centers, in-home providers, Head Starts, and public schools currently experience. After we review the findings, we’ll be able to write our own set of standards that makes sense for our schools and our climate. Then, we can move towards policy discussions by educating stakeholders on the importance of spending time in nature and gardening and how the current rules limit licensed facilities from providing the outdoor time & gardening opportunities that children deserve.

If you’re interested in joining our Early Childhood Environmental Education working group that is beginning to explore the options of increasing nature-based and outdoor early learning in Arizona, let us know!

Contact Diona Williams at outbacklearning2019@gmail.com for more information.

Shout out to businesses supporting EE!

It’s been more than a month since AAEE’s first conference in over a decade and we have not stopped thinking about it! Your professional development committee and board of directors are hard at work sorting through the feedback to shape future professional gatherings and the general organization to meet the diverse needs of our state. At the same time, we’re still basking in all the love from the businesses and organizations that helped make the conference possible. We thought it a good time to give them another shout out and encourage our members and friends to give them some love in return.

So, read on to learn a little bit more about these supporters of EE!

 

 

Founded in 1966, Prescott College offers four-year undergraduate degrees, graduate degrees and Ph.D. programs utilizing an experiential, self-directed model that attracts students motivated to make a difference in the world.A significant partner for us during the conference was the Center for Nature and Place-Based Early Childhood Education which was established to support and expand training for early childhood educators, pre-service teachers, administrators, and program directors in developmentally appropriate nature and place-based pedagogy.

The Center focuses on designing innovative nature and place focused college course curricula for Prescott College students in the Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education undergraduate and graduate programs. It also offers residential professional development institutes and outreach workshops that provide training and experiential learning opportunities for early childhood educators across Arizona and beyond, including the Summer Institute for Nature and Place-Based Early Childhood Education.

The Center provides opportunities and support for student research on the effectiveness of nature and place-based early childhood teacher education and outdoor learning activities in order to add to current professional knowledge in the field. The center actively seeks opportunities to collaborate with other higher education institutions, schools, and organizations in implementing nature and place-based teacher training initiatives and related research projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce exists to inspire, motivate and empower so that profit and planet exist in harmony now and for the future. We are on a mission to advance Arizona’s economy where eco-businesses thrive.

Our values are:
Higher Purpose: Live and work in ways that create a sustainable world.
Visionary / Innovative / Entrepreneurial: Apply disruptive innovation and forward thinking in support of sustainability.
Collaboration: Network to help each other be more successful.
Passionate: Dedicated to advancing sustainability.
Advocate: Promote the ecosystem of sustainable business.

Our member community brings like-minded individuals and businesses together to networking events like monthly lunch and learns and green drinks. We share our experiences and advocate for each other and our businesses through our like mindedness. Our passionate community provides several collaborative resources such as: Advocacy, Calendar of events, Member discounts, Newsletters, Social media connections, Website listing, Business services, Educational and special events, Group volunteer opportunities in community activities, networking, Passionate volunteer committee opportunities, Sponsorship opportunities to promote your business. Join the movement at our website or on Facebook!

 

 

The Natural History Institute provides leadership and resources for a revitalized practice of natural history that integrates art, science, and humanities to promote the health and well-being of humans and the rest of the natural world.

THE NATURAL HISTORY INSTITUTE IS A CATALYST AND “THOUGHT LEADER”
…convening national and regional gatherings and working groups of interested, concerned people to delve deeply into specific topics, to address particular problems, and find solutions and map strategies.  Learn more!

 

 

Nature Play Learning
Nature Play Learning offers concept design and educational services to all ages for nature play places from concept to installation to pedagogy and use.​

I believe Nature Play will save the world.
Learn more about services and philosophy.

 

 

Who are we?
As Technicians for Sustainability, we are a Tucson based, locally owned, mission-driven company specializing in renewable energy and sustainable technologies for residential and commercial settings, since 2003. The systems we install include solar electric and solar hot water systems. We are located just north of downtown Tucson in the historic West University neighborhood, at 612 N 7th Ave.

Our Mission:
Our mission is to help you translate your environmental values into a practical reality. Based in Tucson, we install high-quality, clean, solar electric and solar hot water systems that are built to last. Our goal is to ensure that Southern Arizona’s natural resources are used efficiently and with respect for present and future needs. Committed to practicing what we preach, we live with the systems we install, make fuel-efficient transportation choices, and whenever possible, do business with companies that hold values, standards, and ethics comparable with ours.

Learn more!

 

The USA-NPN brings together citizen scientists, government agencies, non-profit groups, educators and students of all ages to monitor the impacts of climate change on plants and animals in the United States.

 

MISSION
The USA-NPN collects, organizes, and shares phenological data and information to aid decision-making, scientific discovery, and a broader understanding of phenology from a diversity of perspectives.

NATURE’S NOTEBOOK
Nature’s Notebook is a national phenology program in which professional and volunteer scientists record long-term observations of plant and animal life stages.
Learn More!

Opportunities to become EE Certified and meet Certified Educators!

Arizona Environmental Education Certification Program

AAEE hosts an online Basic EE Certification Program designed to introduce you to the foundational concepts of providing quality environmental education and environmental educational programs and content. This certification, recognized by NAAEE as one of thirteen states with EE Certification Programs, has graduated 57 participants since 2015. It is a work-at-your-own pace, year long, 100-hour program in which you are paired with a certified reviewer who will help you explore how EE may be applied to the work you are doing or seek to do. 

During September’s conference there will be an opportunity to meet with EE Certified Professionals to learn more. Conference Presenters who are

certified will be recognized as such in the Conference Program. Explore the benefits of becoming an EE Certified Professional. Discuss how can we get more employers to support EE certification and seek out certified professionals for open positions?

Eager to get started on your certification? We’re taking applications for the August cohort through August 11. Cohort runs August 26, 2019 – August 23, 2020! Contact certification@arizonaee.org for more information.  

 

Learn More >>

Preparing to Build Capacity – AAEE Board Members at the 2019 ee360 NAAEE Leadership Clinic

AAEE Board of Directors at Asilomar State Beach

This June, AAEE’s Board of Directors was honored to be selected as one of ten NAAEE Affiliates to participate in the second ee360 Affiliate Leadership Clinic. Our five board members traveled to beautiful Asilomar State Park Conference Center for five days of workshops, discussions and planning sessions (plus some beach time!) all focused on helping us create an action plan for capacity building.

Together with other first-time Affiliate attendees and team members from the first ten Affiliates that participated in the 2017 Leadership Clinic, we explored transformative leadership, diversity, equity and inclusion, fundraising best practices and action planning, while networking with board members, staff and community members of the19 other Affiliates and NAAEE staff and colleagues.

ee360 Leadership Clinic participants

 

 

 

A highlight of our time with the other Affiliates was the Share Fair, an evening where each team shared their strengths and conundrums so we could all learn from and support each other. Inspired by this event, we plan to host a similar opportunity at our Conference in September.

AAEE’s booth at the Share Fair

The AAEE team was proud to share our successes with EE Certification, the re-launching our membership program, our new website and resource section, our strategic plan, strong collaborations with other organizations and the upcoming state conference. Our conundrums were very similar to other states in that we are missing a lot of voices from communities throughout our state in our conversations, and funding and people power are continually limited.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the clinic for the AAEE Board Members was to have such a concentrated amount of time to be together in the same space, getting to know each other better and most importantly, thinking deeply about EE in Arizona. For an all-volunteer organization, opportunities like these are rare and we tried to savor every moment – including the beach time.

AAEE Board bonds at the beach

Ultimately we recognized as a team that an important key to our capacity building is to make sure we are deeply listening to all EE voices in Arizona, so that everyone is included and can help shape AAEE to be what is most needed for the diversity of practitioners and audience members in our state. That includes persons of color, people of different-ability, and folks who do not necessarily consider themselves environmental educators but are doing work to educate community members about our world’s natural systems and environmental challenges. 

The more people that feel valued and can see the value of AAEE, the stronger our capacity will be. We were already on this path with our focus for the September state conference, Arizona We are EE, and have started working to strengthen our focus on inclusion at the conference and beyond.

We recieved great feedback for our conference planning

We’re so grateful for NAAEE, the US EPA and the seven other partner organizations for providing the resources to strengthen what we do in the field via the ee360 Program, with goals designed to drive excellence, be more inclusive, cultivating collective impact, and mobilizing access to high-quality resources and networks. We are also thankful for the time the NAAEE staff puts into creating these opportunities for and for doing so much to help strengthen Affiliates across the network. Keep an eye out for future updates and ongoing evidence that your AAEE Leadership Team is listening! Have a question for us or a suggestion on how we can do better? Contact LoriAnne at president@arizonaee.org

Don’t Miss These Field Trips!

Thinking about coming to the 2019 statewide Environmental Education conference? I sure am! Although I love a good presentation, as an experiential learner, I also love getting out into a community and seeing real models that WORK! I know AAEE has put a lot of time into collaborating with local educational, recreational, environmental, outdoor, institutions & business to pull together an amazing set of field trips. Since each field trip will have a limited number of spaces (for example, finding 130 kayaks turned out to be impossible!) — I wanted to make sure you had a chance to get to know the locations & options so you can be sure to sign up for the field trip you want most before it fills.

Watson Lake & the Granite Dells

Just 4 miles from Prescott, located in the heart of the Granite Dells, this beautiful lake is an oasis to escape the desert heat. This grey-blue lake is surrounded by rolling pink granite boulders, and is a vital part of the Granite Creek riparian corridor and an important migratory bird stopover. The 380 acres of park contain stunning rock formations, secret inlets with a myriad of birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects to admire, and small islands to pause upon and soak in the view. Bring sunscreen, a hat, clothing that can get wet, sturdy shoes, and your binoculars for the ultimate paddling experience at Watson Lake! NOTE: this trip costs an extra $30 to participate.

Learning Gardens

Thanks to amazing cooperation between a variety of schools, non-profits, extension offices, and dedicated community members, Prescott is a vibrant hub for learning gardens. Ranging from native gardens to outdoor classrooms to food production gardens, come see some ways in which outdoor areas have been transformed into learning spaces for all ages. See a spectrum of initiatives and learn how gardens can be used as outdoor classrooms that align with learning objectives for all subjects. Contemplate the potential for your program’s own spaces and get inspired to get your hands dirty!

Natural History Institute

The Natural History Institute provides leadership and resources for a revitalized practice of natural history that integrates art, science, and humanities to promote the health and well-being of humans and the rest of the natural world. Located in downtown Prescott in a beautifully restored historic building, the Institute provides a fascinating array of educational opportunities such as in-house explorations of their thousands of preserved plants (over 9,000 in the herbarium alone!) as well as insects and birds, visual & performance art installations, and unique community field trips around the state that provide creative and engaging environmental education to participants of all ages. The Natural History Institute is dedicated to changing the way we view our evolutionary relationship with the world around us and will inspire anyone who strives to connect others to our world’s unique and irreplaceable natural wonders.

Highlands Center for Natural History

Immersed in the beautiful Prescott National Forest near Lynx Lake, the Highlands Center for Natural History is a Prescott nature center, a hub for lifelong learning, and designed to invite discovery of the wonders of nature. This field trip is lead by interpretive specialist and nature play space designer, Nikki Julien. See how the Highlands Center has worked with their landscape to create interactive spaces such as the James Family Discovery Gardens and kept the focus on inclusive & accessible design. Their programs range from Arthropalooza, to Shakespeare in the Pines, Knee-High Naturalists, naturalist certification classes, and more. Nikki will guide you through the beautiful ponderosa forests of Prescott, and help you think about your landscapes and the ways in which you can design & interpret for better engagement with learners of all ages.

Heritage Park Zoo

Summer Zoo Camp 2016 - Wallabies 5Situated on ten acres north of Prescott and overlooking the Granite Dells & Willow Lake, the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary has a wide variety of opportunities for visitors. HPZS is a non-profit wildlife sanctuary, dedicated to the conservation and protection of native and exotic animals. The sanctuary provides a source of recreation, education, and entertainment for all ages, especially with their large, naturally landscaped enclosures for the animals, interactive paths, daily programming, special events, and camps. With the mission of “Conservation through Education,” Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary provides a unique and up-close experience with animals that visitors may see nowhere else. Animals at Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary all have a story and a lesson to teach so come by and learn the story of a small sanctuary making a big difference in their community.

Embry-Riddle Planetarium

Located in the grasslands nearing Granite Mountain, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University does STEM right. Integrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into all their degree programs, they have recently been focused on expanding their community offerings and providing increased engagement with their STEM Center & Planetarium for all ages. Their STEM Educational Center and the Jim and Linda Lee Planetarium host field trips, community education events, and tours of the universe through year-round planetarium shows such as Tour of the Solar System and 46.5 Billion Light Years. Check out their incredible spaces and get inspired with new ways to grow the whole STEM in your environmental education program.

See you there!

For more information on the conference, including the schedule outline & registration, visit: https://www.arizonaee.org/event/2019-aaee-conference/

Hiking from Dana to Petra: Exploring Environmental Education in Jordan

The Kingdom of Jordan is an Arab nation on the east bank of the Jordan River. To the north is Syria, to the east Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and to the west across the Dead Sea is Israel. In its narrow canyons stand tombs, temples, and monuments masterfully carved into pink sandstone. The object of my desire on this hiking adventure was to reach the ancient Nabatean City of Petra, also called the “Rose City”. And as I do with all of my travel, I inquired about environmental education efforts in the region.

Shawn McCrohan-Dropping Down into Petra Along The Jordan Trail

From our guides I learned that Jordan is now the second-most water poor nation in the world, which is exacerbated by the refugee influx from Palestine, Iraq and Syria. Our guides came right out to express their belief in man-made climate change, and over the course of 10 days I would learn how this and other environmental issues affect the region, as well as the programs and efforts to address them. Or as Jawad, our lead guide, hysterically said, “We need to kick people’s asses more!” His point being that, as is the case in many places around the world, enforcement of environmental policies is still a major barrier to success.

I’m a firm believer that some of the most influential environmental educators come in the form of non-formal or non-traditional outdoor leaders such as travel guides, who lead people on a journey of self-discovery and appreciation for new lands. Guiding people along the path of being tangentially aware of a place, to loving it, becoming part of it, and wanting to protect it fiercely. Our guides were exceptional, and made it a priority to explain to us visitors from around the world (Australia, Scotland, UK, Italy, Germany, and USA) how the nation of Jordan and its communities are experiencing environmental issues.

Hiking Up Sand Dunes in Wadi Rum

Here in Arizona, we are well acquainted with the desert environment and the importance of water conservation. The average rainfall in Jordan is between four and nine inches per year. In the Sonoran Desert we get about seven inches of rain per year. I was continually struck by the parallels between Arizona and Jordan, especially the landscape. However, one reminder that I was no longer in Arizona was the daily Islamic call to prayer coming from surrounding mosques. Hearing this to me was an exotic and exciting reminder that I was in a foreign land, and I loved it!

We began our hike in the Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan’s largest nature reserve, which includes four different bio-region zones (Mediterranean, Irano-Turanian, Saharo, Arabian and Sudanian). We hiked along part of the two-year-old Jordan Trail which extends through local villages and consists of eight sections. I hiked the 72.6km section from Dana to Petra.  The trail aims to get people out into nature, and support local populations.

“Friend” The Donkey and Fellow Hiker

Over the next 7 days we would hike with our two guides, three local Bedouins, and two donkeys named Felha and Friend. They were the highlight of the trip! Sometimes a little bossy on the trail, and would walk really close behind me wanting to pass. Yes, Felha, you can go ahead of me.

I was impressed by how strong our guides and the local Bedouins were. In fact, on the second day of the hike, which was a particularly steep ascent, one of the Bedouins got a call that his son had disobeyed his orders to stay home and tried to follow our hiking group from the valley up to the mountains. The Bedouin, who was only wearing sandals, ran miles back down out of the mountains to the valley floor to retrieve his son and make sure he was safe. They joined the rest of the group in camp later that night. Second only to the carving of those amazing temples and monuments in the rock, I was in awe of human ability and physical prowess.

Our Guide, Jawad, Doing Crane Pose in Wadi Rum #Badass

Jordan has over 2,000 plant species including pine, oak, and juniper (like Arizona), and fauna such as the jackal, Arabian wolf, lesser kestrel, Nubian ibex, and fox. Some of the main threats to biodiversity include woodcutting, overgrazing, hunting, and pollution. Over 15 million trees were cut down to help build the railway through Jordan to Damascas. The effects of this can still be seen throughout the region, though we did learn that tree-planting initiatives were underway.

Petra Treasury by Night

There are also issues with land-use planning and infrastructure development that have increased destructive flash flooding in the region. According to a recent article in Al Jazeera, ”The frequency of heavy downpours that quickly cause destructive flash floods has increased in recent decades, according to Jordanian water and climate experts.” In fact, the week before my trip there was a flash flooding that caused Petra to close to the public for a few days.

Plastic pollution was also a visible issue as we drove along the highways. A representative from Experience Jordan, the company I hiked with, said “It’s sad indeed that we still see garbage in the streets here, it mainly comes from a lack of awareness that eventually became a habit, but there are programs on raising awareness about this issue and organizations focusing more on environmental education. Hopefully we see change in the near future!”

Some organizations working on elevating environmental education in Jordan include the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). FEE has environmental education programs that are being implemented by the Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan (JREDS), this includes Eco Schools. JREDS is devoted to conservation of Jordan’s natural resources. EcoMENA is another initiative doing EE in the region, and one of the most popular sustainability advocates in the Middle East, with wide following and high degree of credibility across the Arab world.

And a 2017 article in the Jordan Times reported that plans are underway by the Ministry of Environment to introduce EE in national curriculum.

Shawn McCrohan

Hiking Group

Photo Gallery:

EE in Mexico: Exploring the Sonoran Desert Bioregion on a Fieldtrip to CEDO in Puerto Penasco, Mexico 

At the 2018 North American Association for Environmental Education Conference in Spokane, WA, it was all about the power of networks and creating a force for the future. Over 30 countries were represented at the event, including Ghana, Botswana, Nepal, Ireland, New Zealand and Mexico. EE is a global movement, and when we are united with common goals, success is inevitable.

Since 1980, the Intercultural Center for the Study of Deserts and Oceans (CEDO) located in Puerto Penasco, Mexico has been working to protect the environment on many levels, including community, scientific research, and environmental education programs that focus on biodiversity, estuaries, deserts, coasts, oceans, tide pools and watersheds.

The Sonoran Desert Bioregion is a special place that has an area of over 100,000 square miles, including Arizona, the Colorado River, Sonora, Mexico, the Sea of Cortez, and parts of California. This provides the potential for great synergy in a space that has been shared for thousands of years.

In its 30-year history CEDO has established a variety of networks including:

  • Local Communities (check out Nature Arte)
  • Local Fisheries
  • City of Tucson which was recognized by UNESCO for its gastronomy
  • US Fish and Wildlife
  • Arizona State University
  • University of Arizona
  • Mesa Community College
  • Universities in California
  • Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation

CEDO has also established the most comprehensive education program for fisherman EVER in the Upper Gulf Reserve. It has been an enormous effort.

Fact: Did you know there are only 13 critically endangered vaquita porpoises left in the world?  The world’s most rare marine mammal, is on the edge of extinction. They are endemic to the northern part of the Gulf of California.

 

 

Growing Big Ideas in the Garden

A School Garden Story

By Ashley Fine

 Over the past decade, our staff, students, and families at Skyview School (Prescott, Arizona) have been continually expanding our school’s learning gardens. Currently, Skyview has several edible gardens throughout campus, a large native plant and pollinator garden, and an extensive rainwater harvesting system. The gardens around campus are cared for and enjoyed by students from every grade level and the staff have developed curriculum centered around these outdoor learning spaces.

While there are countless benefits to having gardens at our school, there are five main functions of our garden-centered curriculum: Education, Restoration, Sustainability, Empowerment, and Connection.

As a school, Skyview’s main purpose is clearly to educate. Our habitat garden serves as an outdoor classroom and living laboratory where students can learn about subjects across the curriculum. It is a place where students can explore science concepts such as plant and animal life cycles, weather, ecological relationships, nutrient cycles, geology, and technological innovation. The garden is also an environment in which  students learn about culture, history, native people, social justice, economics and labor. Our garden provides an opportunity for mathematics to be applied in real world scenarios. For example, the students took measurements and calculated the projected annual yield of rainwater that we can capture off our classroom roof. They collect data each school day to learn about daily changes in weather, and larger scale climate patterns. Our farm stand, in the fall, gives students the opportunity to market their goods, exchange money, and calculate the income and expenses related to their student-led business.

In addition to education, another purpose of our gardens is restoration. Just over a year ago, our habitat garden was a vacant lot filled with years of buried trash, debris, and invasive plant species. In the fall of 2017, the students from every grade level planted approximately 200 native plants, creating viable habitat for a variety of pollinator species. We are promoting the growth of wildflowers as an important food source for wildlife, and native grasses which play a critical role in the carbon cycle.

One year after planting, our students have witnessed dozens of species of butterflies, moths, birds, insects and reptiles in our garden. In September, we found loads of monarch caterpillars munching on our milkweed! Our students are getting the opportunity to transform our school neighborhood for good, and to experience, first hand, the positive impacts of ecological restoration.

Similarly, another important goal of our habitat garden is sustainability. Having numerous rain tanks in the children’s learning environment serves as a daily reminder of the importance of conservation. The students are learning about passive and active rain harvesting techniques and how to intentionally design a landscape to slow, spread, and absorb the water from the few precious rain storms we get each year. They are learning about groundwater, surface water, and captured rain, and the relationship between these water sources. Our ultimate goal with all of our rain harvesting infrastructure is to sustain our vegetable garden with captured rainwater year round and completely eliminate the need to use city supplied groundwater.

Likewise, in our edible garden, students  learn the importance of growing local food in order to reduce energy use and transportation costs. Small gardens, such as ours, eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides, all of which pose threats to human health and the environment. With changing conditions and a rapidly growing human population, natural resource literacy, and an understanding of sustainable food production, will be among the most valuable intellectual resources our children will need to carry with them into the future.

And this leads us to the next benefit of school gardens, which is empowerment. Some argue that true participatory democracy begins with participatory food production. Most people are passive consumers who simply go to the store to purchase the food they want- or the food they’ve been persuaded to want- rarely stopping to think about quality, process, impact or cost. Wouldn’t it be empowering, instead, to recognize, as Wendell Berry describes, that “the act of eating begins with planting and birth,” and is sustained by humans having a sensitive, responsive, and reciprocal relationship with plants. People with no knowledge or skills in the act and art of producing food lack the opportunity to experience true self reliance and liberty.

As Ron Finley, the gangster gardener of South Central Los Angeles states, “growing your own food is like printing your own money”. When children participate in the act of growing food and saving seeds, they start to recognize that money really does grow on trees!

And this brings us to the final benefit of our school gardens, which is connection. While this article has suggested a lot of idealistic ways our garden can be used as an educational tool and as a catalyst for change, the reality is, our students are probably not going to remember every point and detail of what is taught or discussed at school. What they will remember, though, is getting their hands muddy; holding a snail or earthworm in their palm; their surprise at pulling a giant, oddly shaped carrot out of the ground; the weight of water as they schlep a heavy watering can to their tiny sprouting seeds; and the feeling of simply being alive in a beautiful place.

In the garden, students get the chance to turn their attention away from phones and computer screens, in order to experience things that are alive and beautiful changing each day. They get to feel and appreciate the effort it takes to dig a hole in the ground, under the hot sun. They start to recognize weather as more than just a report, but rather a matter of life and death for tender living things growing in the garden.

When children get the chance to eat food that they were involved in growing, they are consuming more than just nutrients; They are feeding themselves with a story and a feeling of connection to all the resources and events that brought that fresh food to their young, curious mouths.

I had the great fortune of meeting Alice Watters at a Slow Food conference in Denver, CO in 2017. During one of her talks, she said something that really stuck with me. She explained that when children have beautiful spaces within their learning environment, “they know that they are loved without needing to be told.” They know that people who care about them took time to create a special place for them, where they can feel calm, safe, valued, and inspired.

 A colorful, fragrant garden is a place that excites the senses and the imagination, where learning can be visceral, memorable, and delicious. It is these deep-tissue learning experiences that result, later on, in responsible decision-making and stewardship. It is my hope that our gardens at Skyview School are one example of a small beginning, and that the school garden movement will continue to take hold in schools everywhere, especially in places where children would never, otherwise, get these kinds of learning experiences and opportunities.

Education, Restoration, Sustainability, Empowerment, and Connection are among the most important things we should be growing and cultivating in our schools, and gardens are the best place to dig in!

Ashley presenting on school garden programming during a Prescott College professional development institute

Have a school garden story to share? Comment and let us know!

Also, stay tuned for more on: School Gardening in Arizona (our climate brings unique challenges and opportunities!), The Dirt on Green Schoolyards (a growing national movement & why!), Planting Standards (state standards, NGSS, and the EE Guidelines are easy in the garden!) and more.

Events

Nothing Found

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria