Community gardens are being used on school campuses as an instrument to enhance students’ lives by contributing intangibles that benefit their development of a sense of social responsibility and long-term consciousness of its health benefits, all while providing students with access to healthy fresh foods in a stimulating environment.
The following elements are needed to develop environmental stewardship: connections with the community, real life, and sensory experiences, doing active work and being involved with nature (Upitis, Hughes, & Peterson, 2013). Block et al., discuss how students in grades 3 to 6, worked in small groups from planting the garden to cooking the items they have grown, to finally presenting it to the table to eat. The impact of a garden to kitchen program provides life skills, psycho-social well-being, improve academic performance, self-esteem, and confidence (2012). Gibbs et al., come to similar conclusions, adding in their findings that students were more willing to taste different foods and expanding their food knowledge (2013). Wolsey et al., highlight the importance of the involvement of community members through volunteering as a factor for success (2014), “…coalitions of school garden volunteers and coordinators were joined by Master Gardeners and restaurant owners” (p. 6, 2014). Soga et al., conclude that “”urban allotment gardening has the potential for improving healthy lifestyles and helping to prevent or ameliorate risk factors to health.”” (p. 10, 2017).
We use these studies to guide our plan for implementing the project, focusing on both student and community participation. Blair found that positive exposure to nature as a child leads to more environmentally active adults (Blair, 2009). Block et al., explain that adult volunteers from the community are crucial to the success of the seed to table approach. Some parents might feel more comfortable participating in a garden rather than in a class setting. This opens the opportunity for students to see firsthand how members of their community value their school and learning (2012). Additionally, when the community is included, they feel respected and more willing to help and support the program (Fakharzadeh, 2015). Also, we need to be aware that not every student will consume what they grow; however, giving students the opportunity to develop a garden can possibly expand their tastes to a wider variety of vegetables (Ratcliffe et al., 2011). Gibbs et al., also found that students were willing to taste what they had grown, allowing them to experience different types of fruits and vegetables (2013).
A school garden provides opportunities for students with a variety of abilities and neurodevelopmental strengths to learn and contribute to the service learning project. Block et al., discuss the increased confidence and self-esteem for all children who participated in the garden project, but especially those who are English Language Learners or those who struggle academically. It states, “ Children described as “”non-academic”” or exhibiting “”learning difficulties,”” and “”challenging”” behaviors were experiencing “”success”” at school…”” (p. 424, 2012). Students who may feel inferior to their peers academically can feel success and pride when involved with a task that does not require scoring or competitive ranking. A school garden project can include all students with varying backgrounds and needs. Wolsey adds, “”…students who are disengaged from mainstream academic activities are found to re-engage when presented with meaningful, active learning…”” (p.5, 2014).
In conclusion, research indicates that school community gardens provide both short- and long-term benefits for students, parents and other members of the community through collaboration towards a mutual goal. Students are involved in the process with learning about nutrition while tasting what they have grown, parents take an active role in the education of their children, and the community in general benefits from the stronger bonds formed in developing a project that impacts everyone involved.
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