Caurus Academy, a Phoenix, Arizona K-8 school and a recipient of our Fall 2016 Team UP for Healthy School Gardens Grant, sponsored by Jamba Juice, integrates their robust school garden program into just about every aspect of the curriculum and school community. Recognizing the value of experiential education, their garden projects enhance the study of math, science, English language arts, and social studies for all grades and are aligned to Arizona State Standards in Science and Common Core State Standards.
The gardens began with six above-ground planter boxes that were researched, designed, and built by 6th and 7th grade students for use by all grades. The students did everything from contacting local businesses to procure the materials, soil, and mulch needed to build and fill the planters to clearing the space and putting the beds together.
School principal Dameon Blair is a passionate advocate of garden-based learning and giving students the opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom to hands-on education in outside environments. Besides growing vegetables and herbs, he notes, students conduct science experiments, integrating subjects such as geometry, botany, and environmental studies, and learn first-hand about composting and natural pest control. While STEM subjects are a focus of the garden experience, it also provides fertile ground for connections to other subject areas such as art and social studies. For example, students plant gourds in the spring to harvest in the fall as part of their study of Native American culture. Students conduct science experiments by growing the same varieties of gourds in different types of soil to observes differences and use their math skills to measure gourds using various units of measurement. Learning about the uses and decoration of gourds by native cultures connects to social studies and art, and finally students design and display their gourds throughout the school. Says Blair, “There are unlimited ways to provide hands-on opportunities in an experiential environment with creative and passionate educators driving the instruction.”
Garden-based learning extends beyond the classroom and academic subjects to broadening students’ food horizons and making healthy food choices. Students are encouraged to grow – and sample – both familiar vegetables and ones that are new to them. “We call our vegetables nature’s candy,” says Blair, and students often choose to have snack time in the garden. “Our lunch program promotes healthy eating and our Physical Education teacher discusses healthy habits tied to what is going on in our garden.”
Caurus Academy also has a school-wide composting program led by the middle school students who reach out to the entire school community in assemblies to share the value and purpose of composting and explain the different ways of doing it. They also conduct science experiments to measure the decomposition rate and temperature of various materials.
The school’s latest project – a Sonoran Desert garden filled with native plants – beautifies the school campus and connects the students to the regional native vegetation of their desert ecosystem. This educationally focused garden will give students the opportunity to learn about the life cycles, habitat, uses, and unique adaptations of desert plants. But these passionate gardeners aren’t ready to hang up their shovels yet. Using the resources provided by the Team UP for Healthy School Gardens Grant, they plan to add six more STEM-focused raised beds designed and built by students in various geometric shapes. These beds will be painted in primary colors so that, in addition to providing more growing space, they can be used by the Kindergarten staff to teach and align standards in shapes, colors, and measurements. What a creative way to get the most out of every inch of garden space!
Our congratulations go out to all the dedicated and enthusiastic gardeners at Caurus Academy – educators and students alike – for doing such an inspiring job bringing the joys of gardening and all the benefits of learning in the garden to their school community.