School gardens are such a terrific resource on so many levels, but it takes work to get one started, to maintain a program, and to hand it over when it’s time for key players move on. Fortunately, there are lots of resources out there to support parents and teachers who value outdoor learning and gardening programs. Read More
Tuckahoe Elementary hosted the February Arlington Public Schools (APS) School Garden Meetup with a presentation on bringing the outdoors into the classroom and winterizing an outdoor education program followed by a guided tour of the school’s award-winning Discovery Garden. This April cold snap is keeping these tips relevant well into spring! Read More
The group that put together the April 6 Growing Green Schools event for Arlington staff, teachers, and parents interested in school gardens and nutrition programs held its first follow-up “School Garden Meetup” at Jamestown Elementary on June 8. The goal was to connect school garden enthusiasts, to share best practices and challenges, and to get inspired by touring the school grounds. Read More
For anyone looking to start or expand a school gardening or nutrition program, the Growing Green Schools event at Fairlington Community Center was the place to be Monday afternoon. Aimed at providing parents and school staff in Arlington with the necessary resources to promote gardening and nutrition education, the event was a treasure trove for anyone in Northern Virginia. Read More
Attending Rooting DC is enough to make a person want to dig under the snow to get started gardening! The 8th annual gardening forum took place on Saturday, February 28 at the sparkling new Wilson High School in Tenleytown. Its tagline is: “An annual forum. A perennial movement.” With 1200 attending this day packed full with workshops and an exhibit area filled with experts, the event hosted by DC Greens was a huge success.
Leaders of Northern Virginia’s environmental education scene met last week to discuss recent renovations and sustainability initiatives taken at George C. Marshall High School in Fairfax County and to discuss plans for a possible statewide environmental education organization.
Members of the leadership team of NoVA Outside, an alliance of environmental educators, took a student-led tour of the school and its green features. The school’s student environmental organizations, Earth Force and the Native Species Club, sponsored by Barbara Brown have been busy for years on environmental initiatives and were successful at getting several environmental features and design components worked into the renovation.
NoVA Outside leadership team member Elenor Hodges shared some of the sustainability components that were worked into Marshall’s recent renovation. Hodges, a member of the Arlington Public Schools Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability and also the director of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment said, “I was really impressed with what they had accomplished, specifically with the student-driven projects and the excitement and engagement of the students. It was very apparent that these were students who had come up with these ideas. I was inspired, and I hope that we can learn how to take a lot of what Arlington focuses on in LEED certification and take it to the level of using student leadership and student ideas.”
The best example at Marshall, Hodges said, was a green roof. A student who has since graduated wanted a green roof to be in a very visible location even if students did not have access to the roof. During the renovation, this was made possible. The money needed to install and expand the green roof was raised by students. The students who led the tour talked about what it does to reduce the school’s stormwater impact but also noted the fact that it’s a visible project that students can see every day. The students did the design, planning and fundraising for this and other projects. Hodges said Marshall has great examples of student initiatives as well as greenovation.
Hodges said there was also lots of student engagement with the two courtyards they viewed on the tour. One of which was a modern space for which, after the renovations, students in the Native Species Club designed a complementary landscape plan using native plants. One feature is this herb spiral that helps drain water down the courtyard.
Spring is a busy season for gardeners and, as the past few weeks have been busy for this parent just learning about school gardens. Three local schools with some amazing gardens have inspired me to take a more active role in my children’s school gardening program.
The non-profit group NoVA Outside held its third annual Early Childhood Outside conference on April 26 at Westlawn Elementary in the Falls Church section of Fairfax County. The morning began with an interactive keynote titled “Dancing Through the Natural World: Nature and Child-Initiated Choreography” given by Amanda Whiteman, Wolf Trap Master Teaching Artist, from the Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts . It was followed by several workshops and hands-on sessions, including the presentation “The Benefits of Outdoor Learning in the Elementary School” by two kindergarten teachers at the school, Carol Hunt and Libby Hagen.
The Discovery Area that these teachers were instrumental in building at Westlawn includes a garden, a digging area and hill, weather-resistant cabinets with small parts toys for creative play, several learning stations, and an Earth Loom designed by Cheryl Corson Design (like the one that was recently built at Brookside Gardens in Maryland) into which children can weave flowers, leaves, grass anything they dream up. The courtyard at Westlawn offered up even more great opportunities for learning, including a vernal pool.
I got even more inspired a few weeks later when I learned about another wonderful school garden from Christy Przystawik of Feeding Families Well. Christy teaches and coordinates the garden program at Peabody Elementary for the FoodPrints program of FRESHFARM Markets. She was so taken with the gardens at Stoddert Elementary in NW DC when the school held a recent inservice that she offered to take me on a visit.
Stoddert’s full-time garden coordinator is a position funded in part by DCPS and in part by the school PTA. Ms. Kealy works with two different grade levels per month, teaching each class two times per week so that they children can see things growing and changing. The lessons are an hour long and fit into the schedule as science. The classroom teacher stays during the lesson to assist or to break the class into two small groups.
The garden is maintained in part through weekly Monday afternoon open work times that might see 20 children and their parents as well as larger workdays a few times a year.
Over in north Arlington, Tuckahoe Elementary has a robust outdoor learning program thanks in part to PTA funding that supports a garden maintenance coordinator and to the school’s outdoor learning Exemplary Learning initiative that allocates a part-time position to Nancy Libson to create and implement outdoor curriculum. I hope to visit Tuckahoe soon, but one look at the Tuckahoe Discovery Garden and Outdoor Classroom website will have many a natural-minded parent drooling, and Nancy has many more lessons she told me she hasn’t even put up yet on the already-impressive outdoor curriculum page.
We here at Mindful Healthy Life would love to know about other great gardening and outdoor education programs in DC-area schools. We’d especially like to know about public schools that have made experiential learning work despite pressures to prepare students for standardized tests. Wonderful learning can occur through hands-on means, but those approaches might not be so apparent to teachers who haven’t had adequate training.
Please share in the comments (see the thought bubble in the green circle at the right toward the top of the post) or on our Facebook page about other schools or programs we should check out, or feel free to submit a piece about the program at your school.