To the passer-by or someone less interested in gardening, the school yard may look like a run-of-the-mill patch of green and brown.
But educational opportunities abound in such gardens, according to several Napa teachers who run them. They can be used to teach students in alternative, specific ways about agriculture, nutrition, and numerous scientific subjects and other disciplines.
“Any subject can use the school yard,” said Louanne Talbert, a former retired science teacher at River Middle School. “This is how we make the curriculum lively and relevant.”
School gardens offer many other benefits beyond their potential use in education, the teachers added. For example, they are awe-inspiring and can help students connect with natural systems. All this is achieved by leveraging multiple senses such as touch and smell. These senses are not commonly used in the classroom.
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“One of my main goals when I was a school gardening teacher was to help my students understand the depth of their responsibilities as stewards of the planet,” Talbert said. “When they connect with soil, water, sunlight and air, they develop a respect for all life and an interest in caring for our planet, which is now so important.”
But starting a vegetable garden at school can be a big challenge. It also requires consistent maintenance even if it already exists on the school campus. Teachers who are bound by time, funds, or know-how may give up quickly after finding everything they need to create a garden, teachers said.
In 2018, these barriers inspired science educator Carrie Stroll to launch The Farm, a Napa-based non-profit organization aimed at helping school gardens and outdoor education programs grow and thrive. Established School Garden Doctor.
According to Strohl, starting a school garden presents many challenges and is in great need of support.
“Let’s say you want to start a school garden,” Stroll said. “Do you have space on your campus? Do you have permission to use that space for that purpose? And there are a lot of regulations for that. Do you have the know-how and knowledge resources? Is there access to the sun? Is there water, is there labor, is there vegetation?”
One way organizations can understand their teachers’ needs is by funding the School Garden Learning Network. The network was founded in 2017 and continues to be led by Mr. Talbert, who is also a board member of The School Learning Doctor. Talbert said the network is primarily made up of a group of school gardening teachers working together to support each other.
Talbert has written several grants to assist members of the group in school gardens. , she said, including offering it free of charge to all participants. It also includes practical help such as installing an irrigation system.
“Teachers were there on their own, trying to figure out how to water their gardens efficiently,” Talbert said. “So some of us who are familiar with setting up irrigation systems used part of the grant money to buy materials, and then I went out and worked with teachers to find out what works for them. We have set up an irrigation system that
The School Garden Doctor now plans to start again with small irrigation grants totaling about $250 per site, Strohl said. Last year, the organization helped three of his schools (New Technology High School, Napa Valley Language Academy, and Snow Elementary School) install such a system, Strohl said.
The organization is also initiating an annual Erin Soper Memorial Grant. It is named after a former Napa Valley Unified School District teacher who died of cancer in May. Learn, said Stroll.
New Tech science teacher Christie Wolf says Strohl inspired her to start a school garden at a School Garden Network workshop she was invited to several years ago. Ms. Wolfe said she had little personal gardening experience at the time.
“Stroll was so inspiring and she knew so much about all these plants,” Wolfe said. They had berries on the table for us to taste.The seeds were shared.The teachers were all talkative.It wasn’t very formal.This common It was just engaging each other about interest, and I was definitely hooked.
Wolf said the School Garden Doctor helped connect her with all kinds of necessary resources and mentors. Wolff said continued involvement with the garden is necessary for it to continue to exist, and Stroll has helped inspire that commitment in both teachers and students, she added.
Wolf said it’s hard to pin down how school gardens influence the learning environment. But one of the values she sees in her garden, she said, is cultivating a reciprocal connection to the outside world, to nature and to the local land.
“So we’re not just studying what’s out there somewhere, we’re studying what’s here where we live and what we’re connected to.
Wolf also emphasized the mental health benefits of gardening. Julie Love, a science teacher at Valley Oak High School, says it’s important when students come back to school, and the garden there is a place for them to relax.
“Students have been through a lot,” said Wolfe. “So have the teachers. We have all been through a lot. I find it perching, and I think it’s a really great space for kids to pause, slow down, and reconnect at a slower pace in the midst of a busy school day.”
Lovie said she and her students often connect to the larger world through Valley Oak Gardens. They recently wrapped up a unit on pollinators and talked about how monarch butterflies were added to the endangered species list earlier this year. So, Lovie said, as part of the unit, she and her students planted a pollinator garden and the Napa Stock Reserve donated milkweed for the purpose.
“We have a lot of great connections in our community, and School Garden Doctor helps us connect to those resources,” says Lovie. “…in our quest to save the world through our students and gardening, we can feel a little lonely at times, so it’s important to support us.”
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Schoolyards can offer students a lot, according to Napa teachers who run them. But starting or maintaining it can be difficult. School Garden Doctor seeks to ease these barriers.
You can reach Edward Booth at 707-256-2213.