Heading back to class this fall will mean heading back to the school garden at hundreds of schools across Georgia.
While more and more schools are using gardens as outdoor classrooms, many teachers are still fine-tuning how to best use these new resources and many administrators are still figuring out how to maintain the gardens from year to year so they don’t become eyesores or liabilities.
The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences offers a new online resource for Georgia teachers, parents and administrators looking to start a school garden, refurbish an existing garden or simply take full advantage of a school garden that’s being under used.
The UGA Extension School Garden Resource Center, launched in fall 2013, offers teachers in kindergarten through eighth grade lesson plans that use school gardens to teach the curriculum prescribed in the Georgia Performance Standards.
It also offers a comprehensive, practical guide on starting and maintaining a school garden and funding sources for garden improvements. It offers real world strategies for organizing, maintaining and using school gardens year after year.
All of the content at the School Garden Resource Center is free and available at extension.uga.edu/k12/school-gardens.
David Knauft, a professor of horticulture at UGA, collected and adapted the school garden lesson plans in order to make it easier for teachers to use gardens in their teaching. During his research, he found many teachers didn't feel they had time to work gardening into their teaching day and didn't have the support they needed to maintain the gardens.
"We conducted four focus groups with teachers, administrators and volunteers across Georgia, asking them about the value of the gardens and what we could do to help," Knauft said. "They said that providing information to help establish and grow their gardens and how to work them into the existing curriculum, so that they could more easily use the gardens, would make a big difference."
Knauft, who has taught horticulture for more than three decades, first learned the importance of linking enrichment activities with state-mandated curriculum when he helped to develop Project Focus. Project Focus is an elementary and middle school program in which college students conduct curriculum-based science programs in local classrooms.
Knauft collected and adapted the school garden lesson plans and other resources with the help of Alicia Holloway, a former agriculture teacher who now worke on the school garden project. Holloway will be starting her master's degree in horticulture this fall. She will be working with Dr. Knauft to study the impacts of school gardens on children's health.
"There's a lot of pressure for teachers to improve test scores, so it can be hard to take time away from instruction to take a class outside," Holloway said. "But if you can tie that time outside to the curriculum and use the school's garden to teach them the standards that they need to learn, it starts to make sense."
"Hopefully, teachers will be able to go to this website, look at the lesson plan resources that are available and find one that works best for teaching the standards that they need to focus on, while introducing students to the natural world," she said.
Kaiser Permanente's Partnership for a Healthier America funded part of the School Garden Resource Center and will help develop more standards-based lesson plans that can be used in Georgia's school gardens.
The resource center is a well-organized, one-stop-shop for resources from other state Extension agencies, the USDA and non-profit organizations that promote gardening in schools.
For success stories of school gardens across Georgia visit http://us1.campaign-archive1.com/?u=4d1ecdbb6df42318c3e989fd4&id=c5f6efc3a7.
UGA Extension is the outreach branch of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and the College of Family and Consumer Sciences. UGA Extension is a trusted local source of unbiased, research-based information about agriculture, the environment, communities, youth and families. More information is available at extension.uga.edu or by calling 1-800-ASK-UGA1.