Mid-Year Report July 2009 to March 2010
As we enter the final quarter of the 2009-2010 fiscal year and begin our operational planning for 2010-2011, the REAL School Gardens (RSG) staff is taking time to reflect on what we have learned and accomplished during our first year as a regional team serving 66 schools in five North Texas school districts. We are encouraged by the recent growth of our organization and the building momentum and recognition of our programs. In this mid-year report, we are happy to share our progress toward our four organizational goals from July 2009 to March 2010.
HIGHLIGHTS: Thirteen successful garden installations with four more to install this school year Record levels of media coverage First-ever Professional Development and Networking events in Dallas Several service-learning projects within elementary schools and along with community partners Deepened school district involvement in school gardens Powerful national partnerships
GOAL 1: Help elementary schools create, support and sustain school gardens so children connect with nature in engaging, nurturing and inspirational ways Key Accomplishments: We have installed three brand new school gardens, and we have enhanced 10 gardens at our “Dig In” partner schools. This represents 76% of gardens completed relative to our commitment to install new gardens in six schools and enhance established gardens at eleven new “Dig In” schools. Principals, teachers, and parents were represented among the 58 total participants at our new school and “Dig In” retreats. Gardens at two of our existing school partners were improved through the addition of some of our designated “Essential Features” of learning gardens. 1
Featured Activities: Garden Installations Each of our 13 garden installations has drawn crowds of volunteer support which includes school staff, students, parents, and community partners. At one installation more than 430 students came out to volunteer! “Every time I look at the garden it makes me happy, because it makes me focus.” –Student, Lyndon B. Johnson Elementary School Harry C. Withers Dig In Installation
Lyndon B. Johnson Dig In Installation
2009-2010 School Retreats At retreats for our new school partners and our “Dig In” schools, we featured educational sessions which connected garden-based instruction to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). The 58 attendees at these events were both engaged and energized. Retreat Attendance 58 Participants
Prior Attendance Returning
Community 12% Families 12%
“…I love the excitement and hard work that everyone on staff puts into helping the schools become a better outdoor learning environment.” –Retreat Participant
Sustaining Our Gardens To boost garden learning opportunities, usability, and attractiveness, we worked with two longstanding school partners in Fort Worth – Alice Contreras and South Hills Elementary Schools – to include some of our designated “Essential Features” in their gardens.
Alice Contreras Before
Alice Contreras After
South Hills Before
South Hills After
GOAL 2: Encourage the use of school gardens to support children’s learning of skills, processes and content while immersing them in the natural world Key Accomplishments: Our educators provided model teaching through 66 “garden integration visits” to our school partners, reaching 526 elementary school educators directly and ultimately impacting 7,997 students. Based on information from reports submitted in January, more than 391 teachers and 8,468 students have experienced garden-based learning at our schools. 3
83 participants from throughout North Texas attended our January Professional Development event, which was the first ever held in Dallas. Combined with the record attendance of 190 people at our August Professional Development event, we have made great strides in expanding the network of education professionals impacted by our high-quality training opportunities. Featured Activities: Teaching Visits RSG educators directly interacted with 526 educators during garden integration visits which employ model teaching to expand educators’ perceptions of what is possible in school gardens and promote garden use for all academic subjects. On one such visit to David E. Smith Elementary School, the lesson focused on soil science and erosion, and our educator asked where erosion occurs. One bright student raised his hand and explained, “it happens in the “Badlands” of South Dakota.” Much to our educator’s surprise, students did not realize that erosion happens everywhere, including on the school campus. Using the tools of a scientist (our five senses) during a walk around the outdoor classroom, students quickly recognized several examples of erosion and become more excited to learn about soil properties. There’s no need to travel thousands of miles when you can learn lessons just outside your door. When learning becomes real and tangible, children are more interested and engaged in their own education. “[RSG staff’s] interaction with teachers and students adds so much to our understanding of how to better use our garden." – Principal, Rosemont 6th Grade School
“Studying soil was cool.” – Fifth-grade student, David E. Smith Elementary School Eric teaching at David E. Smith E. S.
Ellen teaching at Bonnie Brae E. S.
Dallas Professional Development Day In January, we hosted our first PD event in Dallas. The event took place at the Dallas Independent School District’s Environmental Education Center. The 83 participants benefited from sessions presented by RSG staff and community experts on topics ranging from the work of the naturalist to grant writing to the value of school gardens in teaching the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). More than 70% of participant respondents stated that they had acquired new knowledge and skills which would help them teach outdoors. 4
“The TEKS class was very useful to me because I feel I can convince more teachers to go out in the garden.” – PD Day Participant
GOAL 3: Foster a cooperative spirit among schools, families and the surrounding community through involvement with school gardens Key Accomplishments: We have completed the Community Design process with 13 of our 17 school partners for the 2009-2010 academic year. Our schools have independently mobilized more than 220 individuals for volunteering in the garden, providing more than 1,146 hours of hands-on support. Featured Activities: Design Charrettes All six of our school partners receiving brand new gardens participated in design charrettes, cooperative events that involve schools, families and the surrounding community in the Community Design process. This collaborative effort sparked a gathering of more than 300 people at one school and led to a partnership with a nearby high school at another. Another school had such a diverse turnout that the event was held in three languages – English, Spanish and Arabic. The resulting garden designs were colorful testaments to the children’s enthusiasm for the project, interest in learning through nature, and hope for the future.
T.A. Sims garden design
Lowery Road garden design
Community Supports Gardens Our programs have galvanized a diverse and robust coalition of supporters for our school gardens. Our schools have been successful in recruiting more than 220 volunteers through activities such as after school garden clubs and family gardening days. Each school site is thriving due to contributions of materials and labor from school district building and grounds crews as well as in-kind donations from vendors. Parents and community members have gone above and beyond expectations in providing technical expertise and skills. For instance, many of our schools benefit from the involvement of community members who are master naturalists or master composters.
Goal 4: Create a vibrant, sharing network of educators and partners who commit to putting school gardens at the heart of urban neighborhoods Key Accomplishments: The three REAL People Networking Events we have held to-date have attracted a cumulative number of 563 attendees. 485 volunteers have supported our organizational needs. We continue to experience strong web traffic with nearly 14,500 website visits between July 2009 and March 2010, which represents more than 9,600 unique visitors. Our work has attracted significant media attention, including features in 13 major print and broadcast outlets. Featured Activities: REAL People Networking Events During the fall, we organized two highly effective REAL People Networking Events: one at Alice Contreras Elementary School in Fort Worth drawing 183 attendees and one at Barbara Bush Elementary School in Grand Prairie drawing 193 attendees. An inspiring local group called “Drum Café” led the audience in creative programming focused on children and outdoor learning. In February, we hosted our first REAL People networking event in Dallas, bringing out 187 attendees – a great turn-out for the first REAL School Gardens event in the community! The 6
event took place at Alex Sanger Elementary School and featured a student-led garden tour, student performances, and a presentation by place-based education expert David Sobel.
“We received many compliments about the organization, professionalism and quality of yesterday’s program. It has truly been a pleasure working with you.” – Educator, Barbara Bush Elementary
Volunteers and Service-Learning Projects As a result of proactive volunteer recruitment, we benefited from 1,332 volunteer hours from 485 volunteers. In November, Motorola employees joined us for maintenance at one of our school gardens, and in August, youth from Tarrant County Juvenile Services pitched in to clean up two other school gardens. In a calming outdoor setting, the youth contributed to their community while learning about gardening and native plants. Our outreach efforts also led to new partnerships with Master Gardeners and Texas Christian University (TCU) students. Working with university students and professors affords numerous opportunities for service-learning wherein the older students are presented with real-world opportunities to apply and share knowledge in the garden as well as to develop creative solutions to academic and community problems. For example, one TCU class worked with five of our school partners to provide vegetables for refugees through the Refugee Services of Texas, which allowed all students involved to not only explore the garden’s potential for food production but also to use the garden to serve the broader community. Electronic Outreach Currently, our online communications efforts have a broad reach. In addition to the 14,455 website visits that have occurred so far this year, we connect with 2,121 people via electronic mailings. More than 57% of our web traffic represents new visitors, and visitors view more than four pages within our site, on average. In an effort to educate our community about the importance of our work and its funding needs, we launched our first electronic appeal in December 2009. The email was opened by nearly 25 percent of recipients – a strong open rate – and was directly responsible for five donations. Media Exposure We have utilized recent events to generate public attention and have distributed press releases announcing our Motorola grant and program expansion in Dallas. As a result of these proactive public relations measures, as well as our notable program growth, media attention for our 7
programs is at an all-time high, including coverage in the following 13 major print and broadcast outlets: Fox 4 News Noticias 23 NBC 5 News ABC 8 News 8 Dallas/Fort Worth Close-up (CW33) KERA (Dallas School Zone) The Dallas Morning News
Association for Career and Technical Education magazine Fort Worth magazine Converge magazine Mother Earth News magazine Jack and Jill magazine Advocate magazine
Moving Forward: Sustaining our Gardens and our Organization
School District Investment For the first time in our history, Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) has plans to invest directly in our program – a development that will greatly enhance the sustainability of our work in the area. Fort Worth After School will offer teachers at 22 of our 34 partner schools in the district a stipend to undergo training in the Junior Master Gardener curriculum. FWISD will also purchase the curriculum manuals and supplemental materials. We are currently working with Chief Academic Officer Michael Sorum to develop a professional development contract, which will result in 12 hours of RSG professional development for all 80 FWISD elementary lead science teachers. These educators will then use the “teach the teacher” approach to share the information with colleagues. Partnership Development We continue to nurture local relationships with BRIT Teacher Learning Center, Texas Christian University, Tarrant County Juvenile Services and neighborhood vendors. In addition, we are actively engaged in conversations with potential national partners regarding the development of a timely and rigorous gardening curriculum for use in elementary schools. Finally, we have recently formed a powerful national partnership with PEER Associates to perform an evaluation to determine the impact of our programming on students. This relationship is connected to our participation in the Place-Based Education Evaluation Collaborative (PEEC), giving us not only increased national visibility but also access to 10 years of combined institutional knowledge from organizations, such as the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, Shelburne Farms and Project CO-SEED.