It’s seven in the morning and the sounds of excitement are already deafening. Synchronized volunteers assemble tools, mounds of dirt tower above the horizon, and the morning sun highlights a long list of tasks. For the teachers, the garden will be key to the academic success of their students. For the students, it’s a good… Read more »
It’s seven in the morning and the sounds of excitement are already deafening. Synchronized volunteers assemble tools, mounds of dirt tower above the horizon, and the morning sun highlights a long list of tasks. For the teachers, the garden will be key to the academic success of their students. For the students, it’s a good excuse to get dirty with excited volunteers. The volunteers view the garden as a way to give back.
San Jacinto Elementary, in the Pleasant Grove Neighborhood of Dallas, had waited several years for a turn at its own learning garden. By the end of the day, they would finally have one. Together with Fort Worth, Texas-based nonprofit Real School Gardens, Sabre and VHA joined forces to raise funds for the outdoor learning environment. Real School Gardens engages low-income schools and trains teachers to help them become more effective educators. The training program includes hands-on outdoor lessons that have proven to improve student engagement and academic achievement.
According to Real School’s own research, their gardens increase test scores by 15 percent; one in every three improved test scores are believed to be related to the learning gardens. Thanks to these efforts to date, 53,000 students have access to outdoor learning environments and have grown over 621 pounds of potatoes for food pantries. The effort not only creates a learning environment for the school but also continues training to ensure the long-term maintenance and success of the garden. The initial gardens that were installed ten years ago remain successful today.
As part of SWA’s Social Impact Design Initiative, eight members of the Dallas studio designed the learning garden for the elementary under the guidance of Lannie McClelen from the Real School Garden’s team. Taking its cue from the students, SWA incorporated the school’s mascot, the jet, as a generator of form for the garden. The jet inspired the creation of murals, which in turn gave rise to paving bands that shift and move across the site as organizers. The bands delineate planting beds, areas for refurbished picnic tables, a tree grove, and outdoor classrooms.
Pre-K students greet the crowd of over one hundred people that morning with a tailored performance for the event. Children and their mentors rotate through the garden, working on multiple projects including 40 custom birdhouses, 2 art murals, 7 raised vegetable beds and 2 outdoor classrooms. Milestones are occasionally marked by cheers bursting forth from the proud students. When I step back and watch everyone gathered here, so focused on making this a better learning environment for these students, I understand the value of coming together to create something everybody feels proud of, something that imparts a sense of ownership and instills responsibility to be shared by all. The Learning Garden is already providing valuable lessons.
Image courtesy of Jill Johnson.