Two nonprofit organizations along with the Clark County School District (CCSD) launched the first ever kindergarten through fifth grade (K-5) school garden lessons on Wednesday, Oct 22nd, during an event attended by more than eighty Clark County School District teachers, administrators, donors, and sponsors at John S Park Elementary School in downtown Las Vegas.
The two nonprofits–Green Our Planet, which is a green crowdfunding and conservation organization, and Three Square, Southern Nevada’s only food bank—partnered with teachers from the Clark County School District to develop the lessons, which are the first school garden lessons that are to Nevada State and Next Gen Standards. The project was funded by a grant from the American Honda Foundation, which Green Our Planet and Three Square received in January, 2014. After seven months of development, the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) garden lessons were made available to all schools in Nevada and are now available on Green Our Planet’s website (www.lessons.greenourplanet.org). The lessons are oriented towards students living in a desert environment, so they are especially appropriate for schools located in Nevada and the southwestern United States.
“Twelve CCSD teachers and three farmers from Garden Farms worked for nearly a year after school, meeting together every other week to develop the lessons,” said Ciara Byrne, Co-CEO of Green Our Planet. “All of the teachers work at local CCSD schools that have gardens,” Byrne says. “Although they had the gardens—they had no lessons designed to teach students in the gardens. They only had lessons designed for teaching in classrooms. But now they can take their classes outside.”
The K-5 lessons were developed in the wake of Green Our Planet’s fast-growing Outdoor Garden Classroom Program, which Green Our Planet launched in March of 2013. Using its crowdfunding platform and corporate sponsors to fund garden classrooms, the organization has helped fund more than 60 school gardens in Las Vegas and has a waiting list of fifty more. Already, it has helped more than 25% of Clark County elementary schools acquire Outdoor Garden Classrooms, despite the lack of school district funding. Without lessons specifically designed for teaching students in gardens, the gardens themselves are not much more than beautiful ornaments at schools. It is only when carefully-crafted lessons are added—lessons that teach science, health, nutrition and math–that gardens are actually converted into outdoor classrooms—offering students “hands-on” learning that studies have shown help the students learn deeper, better, and faster.
“Numerous national studies have shown that hands-on learning in gardens improves student test scores, improves nutrition, and improves students’ health,” said Cynthia Radley, of Three Square. Recently, UNLV’s Department of Health Sciences is working on a proposal to measure the gardens’ impact on student test scores, nutritional choices, and exercise.”
“We’d be delighted to be able to contribute our expertise to this program,” said Dr. Jennifer Pharr, of UNLV. “We’re excited about the garden program and hope to be able to offer our expertise in measuring its impact.”
In August, Green Our Planet, Three Square, and LifeLab offered two day workshops to twenty five CCSD elementary school teachers on how to teach classes in a garden. In early 2015, they hope to offer the training to one hundred more teachers. CCSD elementary school teachers from eight different elementary schools are also enrolled in a school garden Topic Study this fall. During the study, teachers try out the lessons in the garden with their students and then discuss the effectiveness of the lessons with their Topic Groups at their schools. The teachers then send this feedback to Green Our Planet. The feedback will be incorporated into the lessons and a revised, improved edition will be available in January 2015.
“Teaching a class in the garden as opposed to in a classroom is like night and day,” said Juliana Urtubey, a special education teacher who helped create the lessons. “You can just see the effect the gardens have on the students’ faces. They’re more attentive, they ask more questions—and they can’t wait to get back out to the garden again.”
About Green Our Planet
Green Our Planet is a not-for-profit organization founded locally and dedicated to educating the public about the most pressing environmental issues facing the planet today. Its goal is to help conserve, protect and improve the environment through funding green projects and through education, which includes STEM, nutrition and conservation education in K-12 Schools. Founded in March, 2014, Green Our Planet has thus far helped fund projects ranging from more than 60 Outdoor Garden Classrooms in Las Vegas to the installation of solar panels at a homeless shelter in Carson City and to planting thousands of trees in the high Andes of Peru. The new K-5 STEM lessons are available at www.lessons.greenourplanet.org