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By Sarah Pounders and Barbara Richardson
"When we started our garden program, garden time quickly became the most anticipated 45 minutes of the week," says Clair Frost, a teacher at Camino Union Elementary in Camino, California and winner of a 2006 Youth Garden Grant from the National Gardening Association (NGA). "Students experienced hands-on learning in science, math, language arts, health, and nutrition. Those on the fringe academically and socially became leaders of their peers in the garden." Plus, Clair reports, students' test scores improved. "Before we started the garden program, 70 percent of students scored in the basic, proficient, or advanced categories. After just one year of gardening, 92 percent of students scored in these categories. Participants' math and language arts test scores improved as well."
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Teachers eagerly share stories like these with NGA, and research (see sidebar) bears them out: school gardening helps kids grow in many ways, including academically. "Exploring and solving real-world problems through hands-on exploration is essential," says Kathy Robinson, teacher at Lake Country Elementary in Lake Placid, Florida. "In the garden, students learn to work cooperatively, practice patience, and feel pride in their accomplishments. Through application of skills, they internalize academic concepts and come to understand why they need to learn them."
"Children learn best by doing, rather than simply being passive recipients of information," says NGA president Mike Metallo. "Gardening awakens initiative, responsibility, and ingenuity. It integrates the academic disciplines of math, science, language arts, and social studies…which, after all, is how the world really works!"
If gardening is such an effective overall learning tool, then why don't more schools have gardens? Teachers tell NGA's that there are a few perennial challenges: lack of time, funding, teacher training, and garden-centered standards-based curricula. NGA helps schools overcome these obstacles, and during National Garden Month® encourages Americans to aid their own neighborhood school gardens through the Adopt a School Garden® program (ASG).
Individual donors, organizations, and businesses directly support learning gardens through ASG, which provides funds as well as crucial educational and organizational guidance. During National Garden Month®, why not choose a school from NGA's Adopt a School Garden® registry and make a donation? When a school garden is recognized with a grant or donation, it inspires more support, as we discover from Betsy Stefany of Harold Martin School, in Hopkinton, New Hampshire:
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"Winning the Youth Garden Grant brought the ideas off the wish list and into reality as it galvanized the administration, teachers, and most obviously, the kids. The confirmation that someone beyond the school thought that the ideas were good ones and were 'making it happen' was critical. The students realized someone in the 'real world' thought that the project was worthy. But it all began in the garden, showing us how we could come together and accomplish great things that gave meaning to classroom topics. It whet our appetites for more, and just like any garden, we kept on growing."
You could make this kind of impact. Visit www.garden.org/asg to find out more.