School to Garden Internship Program.
Academic Institutions Along the Fourth Street Corridor
One of the most prominent assets of the 4th Street corridor is the variety of academic institutions. Not only child care facilities, elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools, but also two prominent universities, the University of Louisville (UL) and Spalding University. There are a number of ways these institutions could collaborate, but one of the most innovative trends in education is the addition of gardening programs to the school curriculum. The best way to utilize the human and physical resources in the area would be to create a long-term internship opportunity where university students teach preK-12 environmental and horticultural education. In doing so, we could utilize the existing green spaces at Spalding and at UL, as well as some of the other schools involved in the program, and further contribute to greening the corridor. The corridor lacks green infrastructure and is prone to flooding. Students could use their knowledge of gardening, horticulture, and environmentalism to help revitalize the state of the corridor.
This idea spawned from a project that was developed within the Department of Urban and Public Affairs (UPA) at UL starting at the end of 2012. A number of students and staff from the department redesigned a grassy patch on the south side of the building and added native plants, bird-feeders, raised-bed vegetable gardens, herbs, and other examples of green infrastructure. The Horticulture Zone, as it was formally named, has become a place for anyone to enjoy and holds great potential as an educational demonstration area. A local pre-school visited the site in the Fall of 2013, where they planted seeds and picked vegetables from the garden. The trip was coordinated by several members of the administration and staff of UPA. This visit is an example of what would form the basis for a collaborative internship program between UL and Spalding for some of their students to teach environmental and horticultural education. It could be expanded to include other preK-12 schools and more sites along the corridor, which would serve to increase education in schools, green areas along the corridor, and provide service learning opportunities for university students.
There are many successful programs for preK-12 environmental education and gardening projects in Louisville and nationwide, but they are often separate. This proposed internship program would hopefully create a unique multidisciplinary opportunity for children to learn about a diverse array of subjects, as well as providing an opportunity for college students to get some important teaching experience in these fields. Some examples of local school gardening projects include two of the elementary schools in the corridor, Cochran and Engelhard, which installed fruit and vegetable gardens as part of a CDC grant given to JCPS. This could provide yet another opportunity for a student intern to engage with children in the corridor using existing resources. Successful environmental education programs are also present at some JCPS schools, as well as other places around town, such as Jefferson Memorial Forest, which also partners with urban Louisville schools to get kids exposed to nature. It is uncertain whether the Catholic schools in the corridor or elsewhere in the city have environmental education programs or school gardens, so they might benefit even more from such a program. Though not a program about gardening, the Brandeis School of Law at UL has a teaching/mentorship program with Central High School where law students get into the classroom and teach constitutional law to interested high school students. The gardening program could be structured in a similar way, where high school students could even obtain college credit for rigorously participating in the program.
Who Would Teach?
This internship would be offered to qualifying students at UL and Spalding who have an interest in this line of work. To be eligible to receive service learning hours, students typically must complete a project within their major area of study. For example, Spalding offers a Bachelors of Natural Science degree that encompasses areas such as biology and physical sciences with programs designed for those interested in teaching K-12. At UL, Master of Urban Planning (MUP) students with an interest in this type of work would be ideal candidates as many of the students are interested in sustainability efforts. Furthermore, the Horticulture Zone was created and is maintained by the Department of Urban and Public Affairs. Other departments at UL that would have qualifying students are the Department of Biology, especially its ecology program, the Department of Geography/Geosciences, the Center for Environmental Education in the College of Education, and individual students doing a Liberal Studies program or an interdisciplinary program through the Graduate School.
Who Would Run the Program?
Ideally, the program could be run by the UPA department by incorporating it into the duties of an administrative staff member and/or student-run organizations. Ultimately, it would need to be the result of a collaboration with members of the universities, their relevant departments, and preK-12 schools in the corridor participating in the program.
Louisville has many community organizations that would be tremendously helpful as program partners to provide mentorship and guidance to the student interns. Possibilities include the Jefferson County Cooperative Extension, Louisville Grows, UL’s Sustainability Council, and Jefferson County Public Schools’ (JCPS) Center for Environmental Education, among others. Interested parties at both UL and Spalding could set up arrangements with any preK-12 schools in the corridor that would like to participate in the program, most likely through their science classes. Schools like pre-kindergarten Early Learning Campus, Cochran Elementary, Noe Middle School, Manual High School, as well as Engelhard Elementary, Presentation Academy, St. Francis High School, and possibly the Brown School. All of these schools are within a 2 mile radius of the universities and most are within a 15 minute walk of either UL or Spalding.
Through the allocation of grants, university funds, donations, and federal funding this program could be extremely successful. Prospective students, along with collaborators, could apply for various grants and federal programs to begin the internship. For example, the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has a program where it selects states to implement school gardens at high poverty schools located in urban, suburban, and rural areas. They often work with 4-H clubs and Master Gardener programs within the state to implement those projects. There are also Farm-to-School Grant Program Funds available from the FNS to assist implementation of farm-to-school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools, which can include projects like school gardens. There is an exhaustive list of some of the funding possibilities that could be used to fund this program. Furthermore, the schools and students could ask for donations from large companies in Louisville, such as Humana or Brown-Foreman. The universities could also ask for funds or sponsorships from various groups on campus, like the Planning Student Organisation or the Office of Educator Development and Clinical Practice at UL.
In general, the intern would teach about horticulture practices and environmental stewardship. Each lesson plan would be tailored to the age and grade level of the students being taught. Depending on the interest from both universities, as well as the preK-12 schools, there could be room for multiple interns, each taking on responsibility for certain schools, grade levels, subject matters, etc. The program would consist of both classroom instruction in each participating school and field trips to either the Horticulture Zone, the Law School courtyards, or the green space around the Spalding campus. These are all important green spaces that are readily available and would be great demonstration spaces. Ideally, there would also be a series of corridor-wide projects that would enhance the green space along that entire segment of 4th Street. The program would also work well in conjunction with several of the other 100 Ideas proposed here, like seed bombing, creating birdfeeders, rain garden parties, and introducing a seed library.
The curriculum created by the interns would incorporate key concepts of biology, chemistry, mammalogy, environmentalism, resiliency, nutrition, geology, and much more. More specifically, topics and material would include anything from basic plant knowledge, such as needing sunlight and nutrients in the soil to grow, to the difference between native and invasive species of plants and their relationship to biodiversity, to landscape architecture and green infrastructure for stormwater management.
Benefits to Children and Others
A program like this would be beneficial for many reasons. The internship would encourage much needed collaboration among institutions along the corridor, which as of now is almost nonexistent. Collaboration with UPA would help support the viability of the Horticulture Zone. The site is a new and creative resource that is already in need of a plan for its long term sustainability. Programming it through an active internship program could keep it thriving for many years to come. Additionally, the project could alert community members to the need for improved green space along the corridor while also bringing attention to the ever prevalent Food-to-Table movement. Schools are suffering from poor food choices and this internship could aid in providing better food options to local schools participating in the program.
Students interested in teaching would obtain actual experience within the school system while networking and learning from knowledgeable educators. Often, students are not presented with the opportunity to teach before leaving college; creating lesson plans and developing teaching standards is a fundamental part of preK-12 education. Several of the National Science Education Standards can be implemented through the internship’s curriculum: 1. science as inquiry, 2. unifying concepts and processes in science, 3. physical science, 4. life science, 5. earth and space science, 6. science and technology, 7. science and social and personal perspectives, and 8. history and nature of science. Having the opportunity to tailor the curriculum with national standards can reinforce the science courses preK-12 students take at school.
Undergraduate students that wish to enter Teach for America or similar programs will have the knowledge and background required to perform those duties. Moreover, the United States has a deficit of math and science teachers and this program could partially correct that deficit in the state of Kentucky. Working with children is always rewarding; becoming a mentor in environmental stewardship will further the progress of our nation becoming more compassionate and sensitive to natural resources.
In addition, there are numerous health benefits to students and teachers who get outside and interact with nature. The concept of nature deficit disorder, a term coined by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, has gotten a lot of attention in recent years as our population becomes more urban and children become more technology dependant at a younger age. The 4th Street corridor, being a main artery in a densely populated city, suggests that children along the corridor may suffer from a lack of interaction with the natural world. Students in urban areas are more likely to spend less time outdoors than their rural counterparts. and children of this era are more likely to be prescribed anti-depressants and be at risk for obesity. Programs like this are used to educate children about the food they eat and encourage them to play outdoors.
Gardening, and simply being outdoors, have been shown to discourage depression and obesity. For children, gardening does this by encouraging better team-building behaviors as children are required to work together to design projects, prepare soil, plant, maintain the health of the plants, and harvest their crops. It also provides more exposure to the sun, and thus increased exposure to Vitamin D, which is known to reduce depression. Gardening has also been shown to reduce symptoms of ADD and ADHD. Given the high rates of these diagnoses in children and the subsequent high rate of using medication to control these issues, gardening could provide a safer alternative to managing ADD and ADHD. School gardens reduce student stress levels, and increase self-esteem, problem solving, motivation to learn, and interest in improving the environment. Students are more likely to make positive food choices after they are educated about the agriculture process and know from where their food comes. Gardening is also a physically active activity that can burn calories and expose children to fresh air. Perhaps if more children had access to a garden and green space, mental health disorders and obesity rates would drop.
Benefits to Children in Underrepresented Communities
REAL School Gardens (RSG), a program that introduces gardens into low-income classrooms, has seen quantifiable changes in the classroom as a result of these garden initiatives. RSG partner schools have seen standardized test score pass rates increase between 12% and 15%. Science scores saw the largest increases, placing students on a path for success in a professional job market that increasingly requires STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) skills. When an independent research team isolated the impact of RSG partner schools, at least 1/3 of the standardized test score pass rate increases were proven to be a direct result of the RSG Program and 94% of teachers saw increased student engagement. The study was then even able to determine a change in the effectiveness of teachers and an increase in their job satisfaction.
In an article about elementary school garden programs, the authors posit that gardening can increase science education for all students, especially those with disabilities and special needs. Another article in the Journal of Nutrition Education & Behavior, showed that an after-school gardening program in Oklahoma was found to increase vegetable intake and activity in Native American communities by enabling them to grow and prepare traditional foods. Along the these same lines, in an article published in Environmental Education Research, the authors describe how the trend towards urbanization and resettlement can be used to collect agricultural knowledge from immigrant gardeners in cities across the nation. And, that “such knowledge can serve as a source of community resilience through enabling people to sustain their livelihoods and community well-being, and thus adapt to environmental changes and displacement.” There are several pockets of immigrant communities within Louisville and it is likely there are some children from these communities enrolled in the urban schools along the 4th Street corridor. This internship program could also collaborate with these immigrant groups to help teach about farming practices in students’ native countries.
Overall, an internship program of this nature would work to serve the interests of a diverse array of students, by age, by education level, by culture, and by the multitude of benefits students would receive through both teaching and learning. It would also serve to unite the prolific resources that already exist along the corridor, but are largely underutilized. These include both academic institutions and green spaces. Bringing all of these forces together is just one way in which the 4th Street corridor can eventually be brought back to life.
Photo used with permission from the University of Louisville’s Department of Urban and Public Affairs