How did you get started with the garden club at ASM?
Spain is in a great region for growing food. I noticed that we didn’t have a functioning garden when I came on. I also know from my previous work that students thrive in a space where they can apply their learning from subjects like science and from doing hands-on activities. I was taught it’s important to have this connection in school. I studied garden-based learning in university and saw and felt the experience and its application across the curriculum. I am also just into gardening.
In my previous school where I taught, I helped write and create a curriculum called Food Heros. We used it to make the connection between good nutrition and wellness and eating and growing food. So I had the background knowledge and the resources and I said, why not?
Tell me more about the program you did at Cornell University.
The program at Cornell is designed to inspire students by teaching them about growing food. I did my Master’s in using a garden to teach students with learning differences. The concept is very project-based learning-focused. Later I applied that knowledge in China to the curriculum I just mentioned, Food Heros, and it has had great success. Knowing that it can work in an international school setting, now I want to bring something similar to ASM.
What are your thoughts on Project-Based Learning?
Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a great way to engage students because you can use their inquiries to shape the project. This is what we did with the Garden Club at ASM from the beginning. The students and I looked at what other schools are doing and gathered ideas online. The students first got focused on flowers but then saw that we had the tools and resources to grow food. They got really excited and started to experiment with some old seeds that we had. They were so excited to see that most of the seeds sprouted even though they were old and expired. The kids are guiding the process from seed to fruit. They research when to plant, what kind of sun, how to water them. This is the essence of PBL, using inquiry to guide the learning process.
What are your students doing now?
We started a worm compost! We had so much organic material from growing and needed to do something with it. The older students in the club did some research and realized they could start making compost to use in the garden. The Upper School Earth Science class had purchased a worm compost bin but hadn’t used it yet. Mr. Ben brought in some worms from his compost too so we had everything we needed. We haven’t been able to use the compost yet but the idea is to start using it soon. We really have only had to buy soil; the school has had everything else that we needed.
One cute story that I remember from this year: on the first day one of the younger girls in the club was really grossed out by the dirt and the worms and now I can’t get her hands out of the worm bin. She loves it. It’s great to see them grow personally too.
The last project we are doing this year is to document the entire process of this year. The goal is for them to share out what they did in a long slide deck. They have made a guide to composting. They have been self-directed.
Why gardens and not something else?
Gardens don’t just teach us how to take care of plants, they also teach us how to take care of ourselves. There is also a great deal of research about the impact that seeing green spaces and gardens have on the way people live and behave within a community. Our campus at ASM can only benefit from having more green spaces.
The great thing about a garden and our garden, in particular, is that it really brings people together and creates community. Teachers and families are bringing in tools and supplies from their homes and we are using them. Ms.Oehlke is using garden education in her Upper School Biology class and they are sharing resources with us too. Last week, we passed out radishes that we had grown to kids as they left school. The club members and the radish receivers were so excited and proud and now more kids want to get involved and start working.
Where do you see the program going?
I would love to see it integrated across all three schools and for it to grow outside of just an After-School Activity. I think the garden can be a central point for teachers to use in their classes. I have seen gardens used to inspire poetry and art, make connections to the past in History classes, and used as a project center for Math classes. The economics of a market garden work great for business classes too! It could even work as a fundraiser if students wanted to take it in that direction. It’s really endless and is only bound by our imagination. There is so much space on our campus that we could also use as garden space as well.