Further learning might mean getting your hands dirty a bit

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As K-12 schools gear up for full-time face-to-face classes in the fall, parents and educators will no doubt be making efforts to make up for lost time during the pandemic. Some legacy education systems will be scuttled, while new methods and approaches emerge – or be rediscovered – to accelerate learning.

One learning approach that schools should consider adopting in the fall is the experiential and immersive variety embodied by school gardens.

Home gardening has exploded during the pandemic, providing the opportunity for many families, including mine, to garden in the backyard, apartment or balcony. How extensive gardening has become is underscored by seed sales. Burpee Seed Co. sold more seeds in March 2020 than at any time in the company’s 144-year history.

Some schools have incorporated school gardening programs for years. But for schools considering new approaches in the fall, educators should consider carefully because of the new interest in gardens spurred by the pandemic and because of the far-reaching educational benefits.

A 2013 scientific analysis examined research conducted between 1990 and 2010 on the impact of school gardens on school performance. He found “overwhelmingly that garden-based learning had a positive impact on student grades, knowledge, attitudes and behavior.”

Likewise, a University of Georgia study on the value of school gardening found that “beyond the growing knowledge of scientific topics directly related to gardening, plant ecology and nutrition, learning gardening-based actually addresses the eight national science education standards.

This magnitude of positive impact has been the experience of many educators, including Juliana Urtubey, the 2021 National Teacher of the Year. Urtubey, who has no formal gardening training, credits this one with credit. for helping to transform his school, the local community and its students.

One of Urtubey’s motivations for starting a community garden at Crestwood Elementary School in Nevada was to help children stay healthy, she told me.

“The first step was to boost nutrition,” she said. “I wanted my students to better understand the origins of real food – how to grow it, cultivate it and share it. ”

Motivation has skyrocketed. Conversations and communication have multiplied. The garden began to become a solution to the obstacles that often hinder further learning. “We were building a system that offered benefits beyond the food itself. We have moved from stimulating nutrition to promoting nutrition. The school garden was creating real change in our community, ”she said.

Improved student outcomes, genuine family engagement, improved student and community health, and increased teacher satisfaction and retention. All thanks to a school garden and the robust study programs associated with it.

Similar to what teachers experience with school gardens, my family’s goal is less how much food we produce – although that would be a nice bonus – and more what we experience in the process. Our modest garden beds are a kind of home laboratory. And, frankly, covering our hands in dirt was a welcome departure from covering them in hand sanitizer.

According to Meredith Sheperd, founder of Love & Carrots, a company that helps individuals, families and businesses develop gardens, my family has joined the legions of new “pandemic gardeners” – full of enthusiasm, but little expertise. .

Its staff have degrees and specialization in environmental sciences, urban agriculture, agro-politics, sustainability and design. They approach gardening with a high degree of science and planning. Michelin-rated restaurants hired them to build high-yielding on-site gardens to supply their kitchens with a constant supply of fresh herbs and vegetables. The bulk and size of the garlic, kale, and beets I saw harvested for a local restaurant was enough to make Gordon Ramsay blush.

But if it’s a business, they also recognize the wonderful educational opportunity that gardens present, for K-12 learners and adults alike. They have leveraged their expertise and passion for sustainable practices and healthy eating and shared it with schools and organizations spanning multiple states.

Several partners include Washington, DC, schools such as the Academy of Hope, a public charter school focused on continuing education for adults. The company also installed a rooftop garden for City Kids Cooperative, an education program for homeschooled children. He has worked extensively on garden development with Martha’s Table, an early childhood education program, where Sheperd and his team provide coaching and instruction on healthy eating and sustainable living practices to local residents and neighbors. .

“Building and maintaining a vegetable garden is a perfect team project and a learning experience that brings people together,” she said. “When it produces healthy products in the process, it’s even better.”

School gardens offer educators the opportunity to capitalize on a widespread interest in gardening. It will get the kids out more, encourage them to socialize more and as a team – and perhaps more importantly, stimulate their spirits and fill a learning void that many have experienced over the past 15 months.

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