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Who Let the Kids Out?

Today’s conversation is with Blue Baldwin, Ecology Program Coordinator for Manzo Elementary School. Blue was interviewed by Kathe Sudano on May 11, 2020. 

Manzo Elementary in Barrio Hollywood has a reputation.  First, they not only increased the amount of time students spend outside (which in 2015 was listed as* thirty minutes) but the staff started a small garden in 2003 that turned into the title of one of the ‘greenest schools in America’ by the Center for Green Schools in 2012.  What initially started as a counseling tool, the Reconciliation Ecology Program to transform ‘lives and communities through the promotion of stewardship, healthy choices and innovation in learning and educational facilities,’ has morphed into the curriculum of every classroom.  Students and teachers collaborate with scientists and UofA students to care for research gardens, a Sonoran Desert Biome, desert tortoise habitat, vegetable gardens, a small heritage fruit tree orchard, school wide composting program, aquaponics system, and active and passive rainwater harvesting systems.  It’s all part of daily life for Manzo students, and it grew organically, little by little, with the help of parents, volunteers and partners from the community, like the University of Arizona Community and School Garden Program (UACSGP) which has worked with Manzo Elementary since the fall of 2010.

Folks think verdant places like Vermont rank high as green centers but that is inaccurate.  They set a poor environmental example as the population is spread thinly but there is little mass transit.  That makes Vermont one of the most heavily automobile-dependent states in the country.  Urban areas that are more compact may be greener, though denser.  Cities tend to consolidate and preserve landscapes and resources.  So, Manzo students may be ahead of the curve on the environmental learning spectrum.  

https://e360.yale.edu/features/greenest_place_in_the_us_its_not_where_you_think

Manzo students, kindergarten through fifth grade, have daily “farm chores” that–among other things–contribute to a harvest of over one hundred pounds of produce every year.  As Manzo is situated in what could be considered a food desert, (where healthy and affordable foods are not easy to come by) one of the goals is to introduce students to a variety of crops at a young age as well as provide the community with fresh produce.  The skills learned here influence the kind of adults they will become while getting them interested in the natural world.  That can have a lasting effect.  You remember the first time you grew a plant from an avocado pit or a potato?

“Subsequently the whole school has good vibes,” Baldwin said. “You really get the sense that the kids here are happy, and they love coming to school. I really believe that, in large part, is because the natural environment is so beautiful and stimulating, and they are involved with all of it. Nothing is off limits to them. They plant the gardens, they harvest, they weed, they water, they hangout in the greenhouse with the fish and aquaponics.”

Students help with planting seeds, watering crops, feeding fish and desert tortoises all while maintaining a butterfly garden.  That teaches responsibility; living things die if mistreated or not taken care of properly, and entrusting a child to take care of the living parts of their environment means they’ll learn what happens when they forget to water a plant, or pull a flower out by its roots.  “It’s a modeling thing,” says Andy Lenartz, a children’s health advocate and psychology professor at Gateway Community College in Phoenix. “I spend a lot of time in nature with my children, and other parents always tell me, ‘I wish my kids liked going outside and doing things.’ Well, it starts with us, the parents. If we want our kids to behave differently, we need to put our own phones down and be role models.”

Exposing elementary students to college and graduate students can enhance the “can-do” attitude that younger students absorb from their older role models.   Many of these elementary students become interested in ecology or cultivating plants and the school garden program makes math exciting (planning out crops and rows) and science plausible (how does that chicken lay an egg?).  In exchange, UofA interns develop gardening and permaculture skills, work hands-on with K-12 students and cultivate relationships in a community only a stone’s throw but sometimes a world away from the UofA. 

Manzo has consistent support from a wide variety of partners and is always looking at increasing opportunities for learning.  Keeping all the wheels turning is a challenge and consistent support for programs such as Nature’s Notebook, which tracks observable changes in plants for students to record, is a great way for volunteer naturalists or gardeners to get involved.

What can other environmental and youth centered programs learn from this?  That it takes a village, even if your task is to clean the chicken coop, it matters.  If you cannot be there, someone else must- so toss in a healthy dose of responsibility.  

Imagine your child in the grocery store asking you to purchase the kohlrabi he tasted  this week in his  school garden?  What part of the garden program do you think would have the most lasting impact on children?   Do you think there is anything we can learn from the students in their commitment to work?    

What does it mean for kids to be able to take ownership/leadership roles to work in the garden?  What else might the kids/neighborhood be getting from the garden?  

( *A study completed by market researcher Childwise in 2015 and later promoted by the National Wildlife Foundation shows that a modern child spends less than 30 minutes per day outside.)

 

Arizon-Wha?!

ARIZON-WHA?! 

We’re starting a new column! Stay tuned for funky new mystery species with every newsletter.

Can you identify this ferocious-looking critter? 

Clue: They are found underground around Arizona in early September. 

Take a guess, then scroll to the bottom of this newsletter for the answer! (or however you want to do it)

Photo by Jessie Rack

Answer to this issue’s ARIZON-WHA?! Photo challenge:

If you guessed beetle grub, congratulations! Since it’s a white grub, we can identify this big chunk as belonging to the scarab beetle family, Scarabaeidae. Due to its size and the location where it was found, it’s pretty likely that this one is a baby Western Hercules Beetle, Dynastes grantii. Larvae of this species can spend 2-3 years as a crazy-looking underground monster like our friend up above, but once they’ve developed into adults they only live for 2-4 months. As grubs, they eat decaying plant material (that makes them decomposers, y’all!) but as adults they feed on tree sap by making a small wound in the tree (this doesn’t hurt the tree). I’ll give you a dollar if you eat it. 

Have you seen weird nature stuff around Arizona? Submit your photos to membership@arizonaee.org for the chance to have them published in a future edition of ARIZON-WHA?!

 

Jessie Rack is a Board Member at AAEE. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut in the spring of 2016. She is currently the Program Coordinator of the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities (SEEC) Program, an offshoot of the Community and School Garden Program at the University of Arizona.

Urban School Gardens: A Nature Niche

by Jessie Rack

The world’s intrinsic beauty and complexity is a never-ending source of inspiration for educators. And we’ve all seen the results of being outside on our students, no matter what age — immersion in nature invites focus, observation, and simple noticing. Students with behavior or attention issues are sometimes stabilized in an outdoor environment. The smallest insect or rock becomes a fascination, and questions bloom without effort. 

As environmental educators, we don’t need to be told about the benefits of taking our students outside. In the last two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of studies on outdoor education, with authors citing results like better grades, higher test scores, and improvements in focusing attention and regulating behavior. But for those of us who, like more than 80% of the US population live in urban areas, helping our students reap the benefits of the outdoors is sometimes more complicated than simply taking them outside of the school. So how do we give urban children the experience and benefits of playing and learning outside? One way to do it is through school gardens. 

This approach works because school gardens occupy something of an in-between space: they are not quite the structured, rule-bound, indoor world of the classroom, and yet also not the unstructured freedom of the open desert, or the forest, or even the playground. And yet they encompass aspects of all of those spaces. Gardens are a place in which collaboration and communication happen naturally, in which rules are still followed, but in which students can learn from experience and from others, and can literally get their hands dirty, while their teachers can still achieve their curricular objectives and meet state and national standards.

There has also been a lot of research about the benefits of school gardens specifically – it’s been something of a hot topic for the past couple of decades. Research is ongoing, but it seems that school gardens can affect students in a variety of ways. These range from the most obvious areas of healthy eating, nutrition, and science to more subtle impacts such as positive social and emotional skills, group collaboration, and even increased environmental stewardship. 

With all of this in mind, stay tuned for a series of AAEE newsletter articles about school gardens. In future editions, I will be sharing some tips for starting and maintaining school gardens, and for using these gardens to fill the nature niche that many urban schools lack. My position, with the University of Arizona’s Community and School Garden Program, is unique; I run the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities Program, in which I work directly with students at Title I schools, providing weekly environmental education lessons to students at these low-resource urban schools in Tucson. I also work with my colleagues to install school gardens at schools around Tucson and to help train teachers to take care of the gardens and to use gardens in their curricula, using the gardens and outdoor spaces at the schools as living laboratories to get students outside and immersed in nature. No matter the age group or ability level, school gardens are an effective tool for engaging students, for improving focus and achievement, and for getting kids excited about their environment. And, of course, for getting a little dirty.

 

Jessie is a Board Member at AAEE. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut in the spring of 2016. She is currently the Program Coordinator of the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities (SEEC) Program, an offshoot of the Community and School Garden Program at the University of Arizona.

School Gardens? AAEE Digs Deeper

“Join the United States School Garden Army; Enlist Now!”  reads the World War I poster of a young girl pushing a plow and looking determined in her red, white, and blue attire. Although the school garden army didn’t last, the battle to get a garden in every school continues. Posters like this were spread across the nation in 1918 by our Bureau of Education during our nation’s first federal initiative to get schools gardening. At the time, the nation responded in full force.

Many believed school gardens were both a solution to the labor & food supply issues in the agriculture industry during the war and a way to teach the basic concepts of democracy and civic duty. Fannie Griscoms Parsons, a school garden advocate of the early 20th century, is quoted in a Smithsonian article as describing school gardens not, “simply to grow a few vegetables and flowers,”  but, “to teach [students] in their work some necessary civic virtues; private care of public property, economy, honesty, application concentration, self-government, civic pride, justice, the dignity of labor, and the love of nature.”

Although remarks like Fannie’s were revolutionary at the time, emerging school garden research from the past two decades indicates Fannie was just discovering the top of the carrot; there were a lot more applications and benfits to be dug up! As we now know, school gardens are not just for vegetables and flowers nor just for imparting civic virtues—school gardens can teach almost any subject, and perhaps, teach it more effectively than Fannie or United States Bureau of Education could’ve ever imagined. Here’s some statistics that rocked our world: In a recent interview between NPR and REAL School Gardens, an organization that not only helps schools get gardens going but trains teachers on using them, REAL School Gardens reported their partner schools see a, “12 to 15 percent increase in the number of students passing standardized tests,” and that’s not just students in the garden program–that’s school-wide! Even in an independent study of these schools, they found that “94 percent of teachers in the REAL School Garden programs reported seeing increased engagement from their students”.

Wow! Those statistics are hard to ignore. But what if you aren’t working with a professional development & training program–will your garden be as effective? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” And, there’s no need to pour through every article; the University of Georgia did an analysis of all the research connecting school gardens and academic performance between 1990 and 2010 and discovered, “overwhelmingly that garden-based learning had a positive impact on students’ grades, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior”.

Like the university’s analysis discovered, the benefits of gardens go far beyond improving grades. As parents, educators, administrators, or anyone who works with children, we know our students academic performance is a small indication of their overall well-being. A student’s physical and emotional development is deeply tied to their success both in school and throughout the rest of their lives.  Across the nation, children and adolescents are experiencing physical and mental health issues at all time highs. Here’s a few sobering statistics shared by the the Collective School Garden Network (CSGN): They found research that our children are the “first generation of Americans at risk of having a lower life expectancy than their parents,” closely tied to the fact that “less than 2% of US children eat the recommended 2.5 cups of vegetables each day.”

Fortunately, the CSGN and many others have found and proven a simple antidote: school gardens! Not only do children experience academic improvement when engaged in a school garden, their health and commitment to making healthy choices receives a boost as well. In a 2007 summary of a school garden study they that, “students involved in a garden-based nutrition education program increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by 2.5 servings per day, more than doubling their overall fruit and vegetable consumption”! These statistics and effective solutions are hard to ignore.

Digging deeper, we consistently found across all ages and abilities, and the spectrum of personal and cultural identities, school gardens help teachers teach, children learn, and communities thrive. Since the numerous approaches and benefits to green schoolyards and school gardens goes on, we’ve decided to share the latest and greatest in green school action and research with you throughout the rest of this year. 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.

To really get your seeds started, check out our Environmental Education Certification Program, where you can start today, working online on your own time towards a nationally-recognized, career-building certification. In our certification program, you can integrate your interests in garden-based learning and other environmental education approaches so that your certification portfolio builds resources that best serve you, your students, and your community. Break the soil, check it out today!

…and happy gardening from all of us here at AAEE!

*photos from https://communityofgardens.si.edu, www.kidsgardening.org, and www.childrenandnature.org