Urban school grows greenspace
Research shows that living, working and playing near greenspaces promotes healthy people and communities. At Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, located in a densely populated neighborhood near San Francisco, students lacked a dedicated greenspace for active learning. School officials began collaborating with University of California Extension educators, through the CalFresh Healthy Living program, to develop an onsite greenspace and year-round programs relating to physical activity, nutrition education, cafeteria programs and garden instruction. The school greened a concrete recess yard, developing an educational garden.
The garden grew from five to 18 garden boxes for garden-enhanced nutrition education throughout the year. The school was able to engage 371 students in the garden and build leadership skills during the 2019-2020 academic year. Because garden safety rules were established, the garden became a versatile site on campus, hosting English and art classes. During recess, the garden was a quiet zone for mindfulness exercises or an area for socializing. A CalFresh Healthy Living educator described it as a quiet haven for students to chat with classmates or look for bugs.
To combat the challenges of teaching outdoors, amid distractions around the school and neighborhood, planners developed a garden peer mentor program. Garden Buddies connected older elementary students with younger ones. Garden Buddies offered older students leadership roles to serve as ambassadors to younger students and lead them through garden lessons using materials from CalFresh Healthy Living’s Teams with Inter-Generational Support (TWIGS) and the Junior Master Gardener curricula. Participants focused on the program and assisted in each other’s learning, even though there were more students in the garden at that time and more distractions. Not needing to manage behavioral issues, teachers more fully explored curriculum content and activities.
The garden is accessible throughout the school day and after school. Students can be found in the garden discussing composting and proudly showing their vegetable growth to family members. Community members are also able to see the garden as they visit a food bank distribution site next door.