Enhancing School Gardens: Progress Report

Updated: Jan 13

Year 1: October 2021

As part of our farm to school (F2S) work, this year we launched a pilot focused on aligned evaluation of F2S and garden education programming.


The project is called Enhancing School Gardens, and the objectives are to enhance educators' capacity and invest in school gardens.


Our strategy is to bring educators together around shared outcomes and measures, so that we can track the benefits of our work collectively and support each other in moving efficiently toward shared goals.


In connecting educators and helping them define and measure their impact, we are framing the value of their work in a wider context and giving them tools to make the case to others. The first year of the two-year pilot has come to a close, and we have some activities to report and share!



Activities

We convened traditional classroom and informal educators who do F2S and garden education to support them as leaders of their peers.

  • With the educators, we identified three shared outcomes to evaluate: social-emotional wellness, career readiness & agri-food literacy.

  • We co-created three measurement tools: a survey identifying key characteristics of educators’ F2S work, an observational checklist for assessing student achievement of outcomes, and a system to report qualitative data while building a community of practice.

  • We then recruited and trained educators for the pilot. In September, educators began using the instruments.

We also connected with partners in F2S and garden education work in Hamilton County, OH, and leveraged our networks throughout Ohio and nationally to maximize the benefits of our collective work and share lessons learned.


Lessons

Look closer at “failures.”

Educators are overwhelmed (COVID challenges; lack of funds, time, and other support; etc.). Some of their plans might have stalled, but our work on shared measures is showing how critical gardens and garden education are. For example, even though some gardens are not being used for formal F2S programming right now, if students are maintaining the gardens and using them for outdoor breaks, gardens can still have an impact on the shared outcomes of social-emotional wellness and career readiness.


Educators of all kinds are key.

Traditional classroom teachers and "informal educators" are both critical to this work. Providers of extracurricular education, through 4-H, neighborhood gardens, nature centers, farms, science museums, and similar organizations, are central to the farm to school and garden education happening in our region. They support what happens in schools and sometimes directly provide the programming in the schools.


Use tools at hand for storytelling.

Numbers are important, but educators also care about those magical moments in the garden with students and seeing wonder and curiosity on young faces. In order to encourage our educators to share their own stories regularly and to build a supportive F2S and garden education peer network in our region, we decided to use the web-based app Flipgrid. The platform is common in K-12 schools, and allows users to record and comment on short videos. It is working well so far! Educator feedback includes: “Love seeing, hearing and learning from you and everyone,” and, “Flipgrid is a good platform to use since most of us have experience with it.” From beehive installation to at-home popcorn science kits, we are loving what the educators share.

 

This project was funded by a grant from Greater Cincinnati Foundation.

 

If you are a F2S or garden educator and want to join us in using shared measures to report on shared outcomes, get in touch with our Food Systems Analyst, Maddie, at maddie@greenumbrella.org.


If you want to support our F2S work in the region, get involved and donate.