From the Ground Up: Engaging Students at All Levels through Garden Education
Dirt, vegetables, chickens, and a whole lot of elbow grease are seeding a new model for how school gardens can improve student learning and wellbeing.
Initiated in 2010, the UA’s Community and School Garden Program (CSGP), in partnership with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, places up to 60 UA interns each semester in gardens in 15 under-resourced schools in the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) and four community gardens that serve low-income neighborhoods.
In the gardens, the UA interns help elementary students understand the importance of caring for seeds, plant starts, and crops. In the classroom, they learn about contemporary food politics, democratic decision making, and community engagement, says the project’s director Sallie Marston, a professor in the UA’s School of Geography and Development who directs the project and is affiliated faculty with the Institute of the Environment.
This summer, with funding from a foundation that supports local communities and innovative educational programs, the program launched its first Green Academy for UA interns and teachers from Tucson’s Manzo Elementary School, one of the schools in the program. Led by two UA graduate students who help manage the SCGP, the academy offered instructional strategies, knowledge, and confidence to teach through the garden.
“We’re working to create a more effective model of learning for students,” Marston says. “The garden program shows them how collaboration produces achievement for everyone, how they can solve problems more efficiently collectively, how they can become more attuned to caring for others, from chickens to plants to each other. We instill the idea that we’re all part of the same world and we have to work together to address locally some of the world’s problems.”
In the fall the interns will help deliver lesson plans that connect garden learning to classroom curriculum. An IE Carson Scholar will help spread the lessons of the Green Academy to other TUSD schools with gardens on their campuses.
"The Community and School Garden Program is a model for student engagement with the local community at the University of Arizona” says IE co-director Diana Liverman. “I’m glad IE has helped identify some support for the project and has promoted the opportunity for UA students to intern with the schools through our Carson Scholars Program and Green Course Guide.”