Enhancing academic skills and learning aptitude and academic performance

Research with teachers has shown that they use school gardens to enhance the learning of their students, promote experimental learning, and teach environmental education (DeMarco, 1999; Skelly and Bradley, 2000). Studies have also found that using school gardens to support teaching also does, in fact, improve student learning (Sheffield, 1992) and environmental disposition (Skelly and Bradley, 2007). Studies in industrialized countries have shown that students who are actively engaged in garden projects tend to enjoy learning and show improved attitudes towards education. Third, fourth and fifth grade students who participated in school gardening activities scored significantly higher on science achievement tests than students who did not experience any garden-based learning activities (Klemmer et al., 2005) (Box 1.9).

BOX 1.9: THE EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD

The first Edible Schoolyard was established in 1995 at a public middle school in Berkeley. Here, almost 25 years after, the Edible Schoolyard has provided capacity building to teachers, administrators, nutritionists, food service staff, parents, and community leaders from more than 367 schools worldwide. Moreover, the project facilitates the Edible Schoolyard network including 5,513 school garden programmes located all over the world. Under the concept of Edible Education, the idea is to use food as a tool to teach lessons of the academic curriculum. This is done by involving children in the preparation of soil, compost, cultivation, and harvest, and thereafter cooking the vegetables together in the kitchen. Putting learning into practice is one of the very cornerstones of edible education because it increases children's perception of what is possible. The school garden serves as a rich teaching environment, while the kitchen classroom brings everybody to the table to share thoughts and considerations on what has been learnt. Through the project, values such as nourishment, stewardship, and community are fostered, which is believed to give children a better foundation for healthy eating now and in the future. Parents and other adults are invited to participate and learn as well in certain evening classes. The edible schoolyard has developed an education curriculum for children of all ages, from pre-kindergarten to high schools. Lesson plans are targeted to children of specific grades and in a certain stages of learning progression. For instance, students learn about volume, measurement, and density as well as the concept of species varieties while pressing cider in sixth grade or learn about pH by measuring the soil in different sites in the school garden in eighth grade. All resources are free of charge and can be downloaded from their website.

Source: https://edibleschoolyard.org/

A literature review conducted by Norman and her colleagues concluded that there is ‘meaningful evidence that environmentally related education using the best educational practices can increase academic achievement across curriculum subjects’. Studies of natural environments, as the review concluded, can be a significant factor in academic achievement gains. Certain teaching practices and teaching support in environmental education appear to strengthen academic outcomes (Nomann et al., 2006). The potential for gardening as an environmental subject especially in the context of climate change and nutritional awareness has not been maximized in the developing world. Gardens in schools can serve as a powerful mechanism to educate students, teachers, and parents alike.

Other benefits of school gardens

The concept of biodiverse edible schools highlights the important role of school gardens in reconnecting schoolchildren with nature and food production in an urban setting especially through the role of edible wild plants and local urban biodiversity (Fischer et al., 2019; see also Box 1.7). The key elements of the concept of biodiverse edible schools include: a school kitchen supplied with foods from local producers, a school garden actively producing food, a nearby empty wild space as a habitat for wild edible plants, and stakeholder participation and collaboration in planning and implementation. The school link to a neighbouring vacant wild site was particularly important as a site for learning about wild species and foraging for wild edible species. Vegetation surveys of one such site revealed 121 wild species, of which 56 were edible or had edible plant parts. Such foraging connects children with nature, but more importantly, earlier studies have shown that people who learn to collect wild edible species in childhood are more aware of biodiversity issues later in life (Figure 1.5). The topic of school- children foraging for wild edible species is one taken up later in this book in Case study 13, Where the wild things are.

School gardens can also play a critical role in reconnecting indigenous children with their traditional foods, food culture, and the ecological knowledge associated with this. Such actions can be important in empowerment of indigenous children, creating a strong sense of pride and biocultural heritage as well as contributing to physical and mental health and personal well-being (Box 1.10). This topic is further explored in Case studies 2, 5, 8, and 9.

School garden activity with children from the Khasi community in Mulieh, Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya

FIGURE 1.5 School garden activity with children from the Khasi community in Mulieh, Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya.

Source: NESFAS.

BOX 1.10: TOHONO O'ODHAM COMMUNITY ACTION

Located in southwestern Arizona in the United States is the Tohono O'odham Nation, the second-largest reservation in the state with 2.8 million acres and more than 28,000 members. In order to address the challenges the community has been facing with diet-related diseases, such as type II diabetes and the decreasing cultivation of traditional indigenous crops (by an astonishing amount from 20,000 acres in 1936 to less than 2 acres in 2000), non-profit organization Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA) has been utilizing school gardens to connect multiple objectives. The organization was founded in 1996, and the mission of TOCA is to create a 'healthy, sustainable, and culturally vital community'. Through establishing community-based projects, TOCA aims to transform the food system in the Tohono O'odham Nation which promotes the health of humans and the environment using traditional methods and practices. TOCA achieves this objective through a variety of programmes, ranging from operating two farms to produce traditional crops such as tepary bean, squash, and O'odham 60-day corn to organizing cultural events to educate about and to celebrate traditional food traditions. TOCA organizes many projects to engage youth through agriculture. One example is Project Oidag, a community garden and mentoring programme, which was established by a group of young people in 2011. Project Oidag is an internship programme for students ranging from 14 to 27 years old to take part in establishing and maintaining school gardens in their community. Project Oidag aims to 'empowering O'odham youth to grow food, be active in their communities, and stand strong in being Oodham', and has developed its own educational curriculum CROW (Crowing to Renew Our World) in order to engage more youth in agriculture.

Source: www.facebook.com/pg/TOCA-Tohono- Oodham-Community-Action-137202393001616/ about/?ref=page_internal

Education and empowerment of girls and women is an equally important dimension of school gardens and related activities (Box 1.11), a topic also taken up in Case study 4, Preserving local cultural heritage through capacity building for girls in the Moroccan High Atlas (Figure 1.6). School gardens can enhance the learning and future actions and livelihoods of girls through many of the benefits already highlighted in this chapter including agricultural and livelihood skills, nutrition education and awareness of healthy eating and diets and nutrient-rich foods, their preparation and cooking as well as traditional knowledge and conservation and use of biodiversity. Empowerment is not limited to school-aged girls. Where school gardens are linked to surrounding villages, especially to home gardens, women in these communities can also benefit in similar ways.

Dar Taliba students in the garden on their way to plant vegetable seedlings which they cultivate

FIGURE 1.6 Dar Taliba students in the garden on their way to plant vegetable seedlings which they cultivate.

Source: Pommehen Da Silva.

BOX 1.11: SCHOOL CARDENS AND WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT

In a village in Burkina Faso, not only are women responsible for subsistence agriculture and growing food for their families, but those with children going to school also contribute to maintaining the school garden to provide vegetables for the canteen. The school garden is highly valued by these women, as it contributes to nutritious school lunches and continuous school attendance. Moreover, the school garden also became an activity that supported the empowerment of women in this community.

The school garden in this village in Burkina Faso initially faced low output and many problems, including bad soil and water quality, infestation of insects and pests, and the overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. After the identification of these challenges, the women worked with a project supported by the Canadian International Development Agency to create and implement more sustainable agricultural production methods and solutions. These strategies included environmental education about chemical contaminants and the gradual reduction in use of chemical inputs; the use of natural sources of fertilizer from goat manure, which was abundant in the community; and the implementation of plant diversification techniques to combat weeds.

After one year of implementing these strategies, the school garden in this community experienced a variety of successes - not only did the school environment improve, which could be observed through healthier-looking vegetables, less pests, and better water retention in the soil, but the year witnessed the highest number of graduates from the community. Most remarkably, there were more female graduates than there were in previous years, which was attributed to better access to food. Through this process, which included environmental education sessions with women as well as their participation and maintenance of the school garden, women felt empowered as they were able to learn about the impact of chemicals on the health of their community as well as sustainable agricultural production methods, eventually applying them with success. The successful adoption of these methods was attributed to the fact that they did not require the adoption of other activities and thus did not add to the workload the women already experienced. Moreover, the women felt that they were able to contribute directly to the education and success of their children.

Source: Vasseur, L. (2016)

The benefits of school gardens and green spaces in schools for mental health and personal well-being constitute an area receiving increasing attention but still very much under-researched. Schools are often in the front line of mental health yet gardens as spaces of health and mental well-being can be an important tool in addressing mental health issues including using the school garden as a space for therapy and for counselling (Box 1.12),

BOX 1.12: INTERNATIONAL GREEN ACADEMY

The International Green Academy is a unique partnership between the University of Glasgow's School of Geographical and Earth Science, and the University of Arizona's School of Geography and Development. The goal of our team is to construct an international school garden network that bridges distinct urban biomes: Tucson, in the arid Sonoran Desert, and Glasgow, in the temperate Scottish Lowlands. This 'biome bridging' will resource a new generation of urban learners with practical knowledge, ecological awareness, and the skills to build more resilient - and internationally sensitive - urban ecologies. More than this, we are interested in how these green spaces can work to change student and teacher subjectivities. How exactly is pupil mental health and well-being implicated in the practice of outdoor learning and gardening? And how might we be able to design curricula that enhance and empower young people's ecological mindset and confidence? To answer these questions, we are working with school counsellors, teachers, and students of all ages to build therapeutic garden spaces (one potato at a time).

 
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