A Strong Foundation for Place-based Education
Joette recalls that when she was hired at TES 15 years ago, new federal guidelines tasked public schools to actively teach health and nutrition to students, with a focus on getting kids to eat more fruits and vegetables. “I did a little research on the subject and found that teaching about the nutritional value of eating healthy foods resulted in knowledge that could be captured on tests but did not alter eating habits whatsoever. I was trained as a nurse, not a teacher, but I did assume children would respond best to experiences lived through the five senses. It seemed that a school garden might be the most effective and joyful way to help children develop a better relationship with healthy food.”
Here are just a few of the place-based educational programs that Joette helped initiate while at TES. These programs relied on the support of the entire TES community, including Cat Buxton, Jim McCracken, teachers, students, parents, and the administration:
School Gardens- The extensive school gardens include 14 raised beds, apple, pear, and peach trees, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, and a pumpkin patch. This growing season they are adding a Principal’s Garden and a Kitchen Garden in front of the school. The gardens provide hundreds of pounds of food for the school cafeteria and engaging hands-on classrooms for the students.
The Food Loop- The Food Loop is a closed-loop food program that follows food from the school garden to the lunchroom to the compost system and returns as compost to the school garden, where the cycle starts all over again. By the time students graduate from TES, they experience an entire food cycle and the importance of caring for the environment.
Composting Program/Waste Stream Reduction- Over the years, TES managed to reduce its waste stream, including food scraps, by 70%, and won several awards, including the Governor’s Environmental Award.
The TES compost system (operational for 10 years) is admittedly a high-maintenance program that in addition to daily operations requires constant adaptation to ever-changing aspects of school infrastructure and the cooperation of everyone in the building. It has served as a dynamic site for project-based learning and helps students learn real-world skills that address real-world problems (e.g. climate change) and the importance of hands-on labor. TES has also held countless workshops for other schools and organizations interested in developing composting at their institutions.
Milk Machine-Another important program is the school’s “milk machine”, purchased through a grant, which eliminates milk cartons.
Outdoor Play- The gardens inspired TES to optimize the entire outdoor space in service to their vision for a school without “walls”. The playground was initially an uninspiring place. After third grade there was little for students to do at recess except for play team sports, which excluded many students and left them standing around, complaining of boredom. For socially isolated students, recess could be excruciating.
TES formed a committee of committed parents. Their mission was to create a playground and community mini-park, designed to engage the five senses and offer lots of opportunities for students of every ability, including social, to find something engaging to do. They researched, did a lot of surveys, and planned for nearly a year and wrote grants. With parents doing nearly all the labor, they installed a giant outside chalkboard, bike pump track (with a fleet of school bikes) a zip line, climbing wall/mural, a group of outside musical instruments, an ice rink and landscaped the flat, barren playground structure area into a beautiful little park which the community also uses during non-school times. With children spread out doing so many different things, the number of playground fights dropped significantly. The graceful little park also produced a calming effect on students and staff and became a place where upper-grade students hung out during their recess times. The outdoor reading room, a veranda set in the middle of the courtyard gardens, has become a place for group reading, songs, yoga, and a shady cover for the hottest days.
Cat recalls that “among the benefits that I have seen from students are an improved and expanding palate for healthy foods; students taking initiative toward team building and leadership; increasing self-confidence in understanding the natural world and our place in it; a deepened understanding of human impacts on our environment and a deepened understanding of earth systems like how the sun works and how water moves through landscapes.”