By Shaun Pink
LAS VEGAS, NV — In a city where the local school district has some of the worst test scores in the nation and where high school graduation rates are 47th out of 50 states, a pair of nonprofit organizations have been awarded a grant from the American Honda Foundation to help improve science and math test scores in elementary schools that have teaching gardens.
Green Our Planet (GOP) teamed up with Three Square, Southern Nevada’s only food bank, to win the highly competitive national grant. It was the only Honda grant awarded in the state of Nevada.
“We’re thrilled to receive the award,” said Ciara Byrne, co-CEO and co-founder of Green Our Planet. “The grant will allow us to take students out of their normal classrooms and begin teaching them science and nutrition directly in vegetable gardens outside.”
Green Our Planet began its signature program, Outdoor Garden Classrooms, in the spring of 2013. Using GOP’s innovative crowdfunding website, more than 20 CCSD schools have raised funds since then to build garden classrooms at their schools. Another 60 schools are on a waiting list to launch their own garden fundraisers. Since March, 2013 Green Our Planet has raised more than $170,000 for school gardens in Las Vegas.
A growing number of schools are interested because all of the funding is raised outside of the school district on Green Our Planet’s website platform. The schools also recognize that garden classrooms are powerful learning tools. Research has shown that teaching children in outdoor gardens can substantially improve both test scores and nutrition. Instead of reading about science and nutrition inside a classroom, students can instead practice scientific, hands-on methods outside.
“Numerous studies have shown that schools with environmental education programs score much higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing and listening,” said Brian Burton, President and CEO of Three Square Food Bank. “It’s also known that the earlier students learn about eating a healthy, nutritious diet, the greater the impact that education will have.”
The American Honda Foundation grant will allow Green Our Planet and Three Square to hire a cadre of local CCSD teachers. Over the next six months, the teachers will adapt science curricula that is currently taught in classrooms in grades K-5 for use in the Outdoor Garden Classrooms. The curricula subjects will be the same, but the difference is switching to an experiential, or hands-on, method of learning. Students tend to learn subjects more deeply and retain knowledge better if they learn through a hands-on method, rather than through reading.
“The school garden is a fantastic teaching tool for all teachers across the curriculum,” said Kathleen Coveney, a GATE teacher at John S. Park Elementary School. “Green Our Planet helped us install our garden over the summer, and the impact it’s had has gone well beyond just science and nutrition. We love it!”
The nonprofit organization Three Square, meanwhile, has partnered with Green Our Planet so that their nutrition program, FaVE! (Fruits and Vegetables Experience!), can be integrated into the new curricula and also taught in the garden.
Combined with efforts from Green Our Planet, Three Square’s nutrition program FaVE! will soon be taught in an appropriate environment where learning opportunities are just waiting to grow.
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 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. Visitors can view and donate to current green projects being funded on its website at www.GreenOurPlanet.org.
About Three Square:
Established in 2007 to provide hunger relief, Three Square Food Bank offers wholesome, nutritious food to non-profit and faith-based organizations, schools and feeding sites that serve a wide range of Southern Nevadans. A national model project inspired by Eric Hilton with a grant provided by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Three Square is a community collaborative partnership with businesses, non-profit agencies, food distributors, higher education institutions, the Clark County School District, governmental entities, the media and thousands of volunteers to efficiently and effectively serve hope to those in our community struggling with hunger. Three Square currently provides more than 30 million pounds of food and grocery product – the equivalent of more than 25 million meals – per year to more than 1,300 Partner Sites. Three Square is a member of the Feeding America network of food banks. For additional information visit www.threesquare.org. For the latest news and events on Three Square, visit www.facebook.com/ThreeSquareFoodBank and follow them on Instagram (@threesquarelv) as well as Twitter (@threesquarelv).
About American Honda Foundation:
Established in 1984, the American Honda Foundation (AHF) makes grants to non-profit organizations that benefit the people of the United States in the areas of youth and scientific education, with a specific focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects in addition to the environment. AHF engages in grant-making that reflects the basic tenets, beliefs and philosophies of Honda companies, which are characterized by the following qualities: imaginative, creative, youthful, forward-thinking, scientific, humanistic and innovative. Since its inception, more than $30 million has been awarded to organizations serving approximately 115 million people in every state in the U.S. For more information please visit www.foundation.honda.com.