Urban Roots takes class outdoors
Shortly after a race to see who can fill their weed buckets the fastest, a heated debate breaks out in the school garden at High Desert Montessori School.
“It’s a daddy longleg!” says one child, sifting through the leaves of a plant for a better look at the critter. “No it’s not!” shouts another. “Yes it is!”
Once tempers have subsided, it turns into a brief lesson on beneficial insects.
“We like spiders because they eat what would eat our vegetables,” Lynnae Fischbach, school gardener coordinator of Urban Roots Garden Classrooms tells them.
Local nonprofit Urban Roots is providing a comprehensive garden classroom for High Desert. It involves a school garden, teacher training, in-school and after-school programs, and integrating the garden into the school’s culture, including its lunchroom. The one-year program is the group’s most inclusive, and, at $30,000, its most expensive. Other schools have chosen programs a la carte, such as a four-week compost or hydroponics unit for $300, or an eight-week garden club for $600. The programs are funded through grants and donations. When a school decides they want help from Urban Roots, the group works within the school’s needs and budget and will help them through the grant process. A program can typically get funded within six months to a year. Schools can also access Urban Roots’ professional development tools for free if they sign up to be a GreenPower School through the Desert Research Institute.
“Our philosophy is we want kids learning in a garden, and we want to make that possible for the school,” says Fischbach.
Hug High School is among the nearly dozen schools Urban Roots has worked with this year. The school’s garden club is currently replacing large swaths of grass with four gardens—a bioregional native garden, a High Sierra garden, a food forest and a vegetable garden. Designed by Interpretive Gardens and funded by Truckee Meadows Water Authority, water meters will be installed at the different growing spaces to see how much water is being used at each one. The harvest will be used in Hug’s culinary classes.
Particularly since the advent of the 2001 No Child Left Behind act, American school children don’t get much outdoor education. Schools must meet criteria established by NCLB or face a range of “corrective actions,” from replacing staff to closing the school. This often means teachers are teaching to a test. “What that means for a lot of schools in Washoe County is science doesn’t get taught as much as it should,” says Urban Roots executive director Josie Glassberg. “There are science standards, but math and reading are the standards emphasized in No Child Left Behind.”
Urban Roots’ programs are designed to tie into those standards in a more hands-on way outdoors.
“The gardens are a window to all these other subjects—the flow of energy, cycles of matter, webs of life,” says Glassberg. “You can do writing and journaling in the garden. In math, they’re counting seeds instead of those little buttons in class, or measuring the dimensions of a hoop house.”
High Desert Montessori teacher Robin Barry had mostly taught inside the classroom, and she’d never gardened with a group. “They’ve had the opportunity to understand the educational components of gardening,” she said of the students. “And they know we can eat it, which is the key.”