The Garden Groundbreakers enrichment program continues to exemplify the importance of garden-based learning in contemporary education. For one hour each week of the school year, John Rex Middle School students have participated in hands-on horticulture lessons led by Myriad Gardens staff. Now as the hybrid curriculum nears the end of its inaugural year, it is best to reflect on the encouraging results and look forward to the future.
Specifically developed to enrich academic achievement, to enhance environmental stewardship, to encourage healthy and sustainable living, and to expand community and social development, this authentically designed student-centric program united modern schooling with horticulture education. With these key concepts as the essential bedrock for cultivating success and facilitating lifelong learning, Myriad Gardens staff embraced the students’ youthful intrigue for the natural world by connecting authentic learning goals to purposeful action. “I have seen skeptical students – those who dislike dirt and insects – become eager participants. As an educator, there’s nothing more rewarding than witnessing the spark of excitement and genuine curiosity in a student,” said Olivia Dias, Children’s Garden Manager.
By integrating outdoor learning activities such as seed starting, bulb planting, edible gardening, compost aeration, native plant identification, and STEM-based pollinator adventures, students have demonstrated an overall average academic improvement of 26.2% from pre- to post-assessment within the framework of Garden Groundbreakers. The intangible impact can be seen in the daily instructional classroom as well. “Students alluded to concepts they learned in Garden Groundbreakers while in science class, especially when we discussed weather and climate,” described Clayton Myers, Sixth Grade Teacher at John Rex Middle School.
With only two lessons remaining, one centered on tree identification through artistic illustrations and another focused on healthy living, the students will continue to care for the vegetables they planted under a row cover in February and March.
In May, executive chefs from Nonesuch – dubbed “America Best New Restaurant 2018” by Bon Appetit – will harvest the ripe vegetables and prepare a healthy dish for students to enjoy at Park House Event Center. “This first year has set the foundation for future middle school students to prosper at the Myriad Gardens,” said Lily Peppers, Youth & School Programs Coordinator.
In an era of education reform and environmental concern, Garden Groundbreakers has merged these two distinct challenges into one robust, future-focused solution, in hopes others will follow. The opportunity for this innovative enrichment program grew from the unique partnership between Myriad Gardens Foundation and John Rex Charter Elementary School. Upon the opening of John Rex Middle School at the Myriad Gardens’ Dean A. McGee Education Center in August 2018, Garden Groundbreakers immersed students in an environment bursting with garden-based learning opportunities. As a result, a legacy has been built that will reach far beyond the whiteboards and trimmed hedge confines of each respective organization, and live on in the actions of each student.