Gardens Providing Learning Opportunites for Students
By Marianne Comfort
Throughout the country, reading, writing and 'rithmetic are getting a boost from planting and harvesting.
Elementary school students in Bridgeport, Conn., relish salad parties with greens they grew in a garden plot created from chopped-up pavement. Teen-agers in San Francisco cultivate lettuces in planter boxes they built on their high school's block-long roof.
"There are all sorts of learning opportunities a garden provides to students," said Deborah Tamannaie, school garden coordinator for the California Department of Education, which aims to develop a garden in all the state's 8,000 schools by 1999.
"It reaches across all ages and all the subject areas," she said. Teachers are using gardens to teach math and science. Less obviously, they also are tying in the social sciences, history and even literature.
In the process, students are picking up better nutrition habits and developing a closer connection to the environment, teachers say.
"We've seen anecdotally that students will eat vegetables they grow," said Tamannaie, a nutrition education specialist. She cited one study that found that students who garden eat more fruits and vegetables than children who don't. Suzanne Duesing, a teacher and farmer in Connecticut, had no trouble enticing her fifth grade students in Bridgeport to enjoy salads made with greens grown in their school garden. "Kids would bring their favorite salad dressing and we'd eat salad, a lot of salad," she said.
She initiated the garden seven years ago, at an elementary school that previously didn't even have a playground.
"We're two generations from the farm," Duesing said. "Nobody knows where their food comes from."
"Some of my fifth graders didn't know potato chips come from potatoes," she said.
Through the garden, Duesing said her students discovered the physiology of plants. They learned about the corn, beans and squash important to Native Americans. They read a novel about a farm girl in Arkansas and wrote responses to characters in the book.
Duesing also works with high school students through the New Haven Ecology Project. She has introduced them to gardening and to some of the more controversial agricultural issues, such as the proper use of land and treatment of farm workers.
Her group is also sponsoring an experimental public school -- on 20 acres of farmland. The school will connect the entire curriculum, including cooking and accounting among other subjects, to agricultural work.
While new to many students today, gardening and growing have always been a part of school life in America. A century ago, most children tended gardens in their schools. Connecticut actually required schools to have gardens in order to receive state funding, said Duesing, now on a leave of absence while writing her master's thesis.
The move to cities and away from an agricultural society changed educational priorities, but now, she said, school gardens are making a comeback throughout New England, the United States and the world. No one knows how many there are, but a newsletter about garden-based learning from the National Gardening Association in Burlington, Vt., now goes to 18,000 teachers, up from 3,500 in 1990.
Some of Steve Hagler's students in San Francisco come from neighborhoods where the only plants they see are the scraggly weeds struggling to survive in cracks in the sidewalks. But they are learning from their high school's rooftop garden that food originates from a plot of land and not a plastic-wrapped package in a grocery store aisle.
"These kids don't come from places with gardens," said Hagler, who runs the alternative education program at Galileo High School. "This is an enlightening thing."
The garden, which took 2-1/2 years to develop, required students to cart soil and water up to the roof earlier this school year, he said. In special education classes, students with learning and developmental disabilities are now learning to organize and implement a project, partaking in an ongoing biology experiment, using mathematical calculations to build planter boxes, and harvesting and eating their produce. Science classes are also beginning to adopt plots on the roof.
Hagler said he eventually envisions adding a greenhouse and a plot of plants native to the area to tie into history lessons.
"It's kind of a multilevel project. Kids have to go up and take care of their plots and do" rather than just sit and be taught, he said.
"If the kid doesn't actually experience something, he doesn't learn anything."
Copyright © 1997 Kaleidoscope Ministries Ltd. All Rights Reserved