On an unusually warm afternoon at Mountain Mahogany Community School, the fourth-grade class is working in a garden under the guidance of teacher Lisa Slavick. The campus feels like a little Eden tucked away from bustling traffic on Fourth Street; fruit trees, berry bushes, vegetable and flower gardens all burst with life.
After they arrive, the students meet as a group, then splinter off into smaller units to work independently on various projects. The young gardeners cooperate to round up compost, plant seeds or harvest basil. In one area of the garden, two kids thin out the strawberry patch. They are focused on their task, and a sense of calm surrounds them.
Kois, apparently unconcerned about dirtying up her clothing, enthusiastically climbed into the compost bin to shovel out more material for the boys to sift. She said she likes to conduct “experiments.” That’s how she got the idea to add her worn-out jeans to the pile. They took about a year to break down until all that remained were the buttons. Another time, a biodegradable diaper was added, and it took only about six months to decompose. When students directly witness the benefits of their recycling efforts or learn how unwanted scraps become compost that helps plants grow, they reach a greater understanding of human impact on the environment.
It’s a sweet thing to watch children get their hands in the dirt. Beyond the adorability factor, though, research shows that these activities benefit students in a myriad of ways.
At John Adams Middle School, seventh-grade Life Science teacher Brie Montaño helped start the communal garden to teach her students about photosynthesis and life cycles in a hands-on way. However, the garden has offered educational value that far exceeds just one subject area. Now in its fourth year of production, the school hosts a vegetable market every growing season, and students are encouraged to help harvest and sell produce.
Not only do kids at John Adams connect their classroom lessons to the garden, but their diets benefit from eating food they grow. And students discover that their school garden is a community asset. At the vegetable market, neighborhood families can get fresh, delicious produce at a reasonable price. In turn, the school garden is supported by these sales. The school hopes that sharing the bounty of the students’ efforts with others will foster high self-esteem—and encourage wellness by helping everyone make healthier food choices.
Teachers and students attest to the benefits of school gardens, and they’re optimistic about the engagement and enjoyment they achieve in these outdoor classrooms. As the garden programs expand, more Albuquerque students stand to gain a cornucopia of benefits beyond that of simply harvesting a ripe, juicy tomato.