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Fertile Ground for Learning The Impact of Urban Farming Initiatives In Milwaukee and New York City A Case Study for the NEA Foundation The exploration of the wonderful world of living things should be a fascinating delight for students writes Bruce Alberts a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California San Francisco and editor-in-chief of Science magazine. Butmost students gain no sense of the excitement and power of science. Instead we adults have somehow let science education be reduced to the memorization of science key terms. FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation1 While research stresses the importance of hands-on experiential learning as the best way to spark interest in critical STEM fields the reality is that little about science instruction in todays classrooms matches those aspirations. From shortages of trained science teachers to stretched budgets that have eliminated lab equipment too many teachersespecially those in the urban school systems that serve disproportionate numbers of disadvantaged and minority studentsare forced to resort to paper labs in the absence of the materials and training needed for real ones. A 2007 study by the National Academies of Science Engineering Medicine and the National Research Council argues that students must be able to know use and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world generate evidence and explanations understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge and participate productively in scientific practices and discourse. Experiential hands-on activities promote all these critical skills along with the collaboration and communication skills needed in all careers. Just as importantly when they are connected to issues that matter to students and their communities they make science meaningful and relevantsomething students do instead of something they learn. FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation2 The NEA Foundation supports student success in STEM fields by helping public school educators work with key partners to build strong systems that prepare students for college work and life. With the generous support of ATT the Foundation has provided grants to and worked with two public school systems and their partnersMilwaukee Public Schools and New York City Public Schoolsto strengthen STEM learning around an area of vital interest in both cities urban farming. In both cities students in participating schools are getting hands-on experience planting growing cultivating and in many cases selling produce. In New York students are working with urban gardens of their own design on school grounds. In Milwaukee plants and fish grow together in aqua- ponics systems large tanks that support both in a symbiotic sustainable environment. By measuring and observing these systems students get hands-on experience in key scientific processesand literally see the results of their work grow before their eyes. And what students learn goes beyond science. Teachers use urban farming and aquaponics as ways to illustrate social justice issues around food availability and allow students to learn critical business skills by participating in micro-economies that grow from marketing and selling produce in their schools and communities. Urban Farming Providing Food for Thought 33 FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation4 The NEA Foundation grants support existing programs that have grown organically in both cities. These initiatives focus on underserved and minority studentsin Milwaukee minority students make up 85 percent of the school population and free and reduced eligibility is 83 percent while in New York City participating campuses are in high-need neighborhoods where 70 percent of all students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Grant support focuses in large part on developing curriculum that will allow more teachersin many subjects and grade levelsto engage still more students in experiential hands-on STEM learning. The full case study features overviews of both programs as well as examines key components of their success and lessons learned that can be used to replicate similar programs in schools across the country. For many districts the time may be right. This abbreviated case study provides lessons learned that can be used to replicate similar programs in schools across the country. Find more details about both programs plus a sample unit and activity in the full case study. Watch how Milwaukees Urban School Aquaponics Initiative provides students with hands on shared learning. Watch how Project Eats urban gardens nurtures stu- dents and their communities bodies and minds as they package and market what they grow acquiring critical 21st century skills. 5 6 SITE SELECTION While its somewhat evident that a school garden depends on available space even aquaponics systems which are typically located indoors require careful planning. The systems are heavy and even with care they can and do leak meaning that placing them on an upper floor can lead to structural problems as well as floods in the classrooms below. Electrical systems must also be evaluated to ensure they meet capacity and safety needsa potentially significant and often unanticipated expense. In Milwaukee building engineers are now required to evaluate proposed locations for aquaponics systems. You cant just do whatever you want in a school building says Rochelle Sandrin a district science curriculum specialist. STAFF SELECTION Its critical to determine who will oversee an urban farm or aquaponics system. In New York Project EATS staff and youth participants oversee the garden as part of its afterschool and and summer fellowship programs. What follows are some key lessons learned about factors to consider while planning building and running urban farming ventures from the NEA Foundations partners in Milwaukee and New York. FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation7 In Milwaukee aquaponics programs have tended to be more principal-driven at the K-8 level and more the focus of individual teachers and classes at the high school level. Even so teachers overseeing aquaponics are not always science teachersin Milwaukee an English teacher and special education teacher were instrumental in getting programs off the ground in their respective schools. Other skill sets matter too Many teachers who get involved in aquaponics projects have a background in contracting or constructionhelpful given the need to construct systems with many large components. Building leadership has also proven critical in ensuring the sustainability of urban farming ventures. Support for the program is very dependent on who is running the building at the time says Sandrin. FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation8 COMMUNITY PARTNERS Programs rely on the expertise and support of community partners. Along with its school gardens Project EATS operates its own large urban farm in New York and draws from a staff of experienced farmers teachers and community partners including community health centers homeless and housing organizations and local colleges. Milwaukee Public Schools benefitted from the presence of two urban farming ventures in the city Growing Power and the Sweet Water Foundation as well as the freshwater studies program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If you run into snags its really important to have that additional expert to draw from for feedback says Michael Sanders a special education who teaches science at Bradley Tech in Milwaukee. FUNDING SOURCES Grants from multiple sources help get programs off the ground but its critical to plan for ongoing operational costswhich can be considerable. Even in places where produce or fish are sold in farmers markets or to restaurants dont expect revenue to cover all expenses. An aquaponics lab or urban farm isnt something typically found in an individual schools budget in fact not every school has a line item to cover expenses for any science activities. Design COnsiderations Gardens and aquaponics systems alike must be constructed with educational goals in mind. Aquaponics systems are often set up in aquarium tubs but because the goal is for students to observe all parts of the system many schools in Milwaukee opted to build glass tanks instead. FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation9 Student Involvement in Decisions In many schools students have a say in the design of their school farm or aquaponics system. In New York City and in some schools with older students in Milwaukee including Bradley Tech students help build the systems and farms from the ground up. Students can also help make decisions about what plants or fish they want to grow although teachers should think through the implications. For example Trowbridge is starting its aquaponics system with tilapia a fish with greater tolerance to water temperature changes than trout. Opportunities across all academic subjects Urban farms or aquaponics systems shouldnt be the sole provenance of science courses. While they have a STEM focus once these systems are in school they become something a lot of different people try to figure out how to use Sandrin says. Along with inquiry-based science activities they can be used to support marketing business creative writing and communication activities in a variety of subjects. Where possible curriculum should emphasize these cross-cutting connections as well as encourage teachers in different subjects to work together using the systems. In similar fashion students of all ages can learn from the systems. In a K-8 school for example the older students are likely to be the ones in charge of maintaining the system but even kinder FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation10 FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation11 garteners can learn to make observations based on what they see growing or swimming. We were able to hit so many targets with our students Sandrin says. Two key cross-cutting requirements are the ability to communicate with others and service learning requirements. Students involved in urban farming often become ambassadors explaining the system to their peers parents and community membersfulfilling both requirements in an effective and personally rewarding way. Recruiting Students Filling afterschool programs and elective science courses requires proactive efforts to identify students interested in participating in urban farming. In New York Project EATS worked with counselors at participating schools to identify students who have struggled with science or who need volunteer hours. At the same time project coordinators also visit classrooms and the cafeteria to talk up the program. Theres a lot of feet on the ground says Kadeesha Williams a farmer and trainer with Project EATS. Recruitment becomes much easier once a highly visible garden or system starts drawing attention from students. Its really easy when the garden is up and growingits beautiful Williams says. In Milwaukee teachers at times went through student transcripts by hand to identify students in danger of not graduating because of failed or missing science credits. Given their multiple uses and learning opportunities remember that these programs attract students for different reasons and target the pitches to individual students accordingly. FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation12 Some kids like the possibility of having a summer job in the field of urban farming Williams says. Others are into science. Others are bored and want the opportunity to learn hands-on. They get excited for different reasons. Microeconomics Giving students the opportunity to market and sell the fruits of their labors provides valuable cross-cutting skillsand attracts interest. At Project EATS students on each campus develop their own business and marketing plans for selling handmade food-based health and body products they make. Weve found no more effective incentive for kids than the opportunity to see money come in Landers says. But Microeconomics can be challenging They require identifying retail opportunities like farm stands or farmers markets cafeterias and food pantries where fresh produce can supplement canned staples. Schools need to determine whether local requirements allow them to sell produce and fish which are classified as livestock and regulated in some places. And running a business requires teachers and students alike to hold to a key expectation You need to deliver says Matthew Ray a science teacher at Fernwood Montessori in Milwaukee. FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation13 The Scope of activities A single system or garden plot may not offer enough oppor- tunities to get a classrooms worth of students involved in its maintenance. As a result even in schools with classes focused on aquaponics the care and running of the system is often managed by a smaller group of students in an afterschool club setting according to Sandrin. In order to keep all students engaged consider opportunities for hands-on activities for individual or small groups of students such as miniature compost bins or smaller 10-gallon aquaponics tanks that small groups of students manage together. FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation14 engaging parents and the community If urban farming is intended to help students and their families address a lack of healthy food in their neighborhoods then parents must also be introduced to the potential of gardening. At Byron Kilbourn Elementary in Milwaukee one of two new elementary schools launching an aquaponics program through the NEA Foundation grant school leaders have already held a parent night to introduce families to the program. Kilbourne also plans to offer parents further opportunities to see their students cultivating produce once the system is up and running in the fall. We want to bring them in and see that these same skills can be replicated at home with their own gardens Principal Lolita Patrick says. A highly visible urban garden also draws interest from the broader community. In the New York schools where Project EATS has built school gardens community members often drop in to ask questions or volunteer to help. Support structures for teachers running urban farming programs. In New York Project EATS has provided the primary support for afterschool and in-class urban farming activities to date and is currently developing a curriculum teachers can use to introduce similar activities themselves. This academic year Project EATS is piloting an accredited academic course on sus- tainable agriculture with a science-focused public high school. In Milwaukee the point teachers in each school are part of an aquaponics professional learning community. FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation15 This PLC meets regularly allowing teachers to discuss the systems at their schools exchange ideas brainstorm and learn from outside experts. The cohort has also taken the lead in developing the districts aquaponics curriculum. While curriculum is being developed in both New York and Milwaukee to support teachers focus groups of educators also stressed the importance of a coordinator to support teachers and oversee the program as a whole. Other Strategies to ensure sustainability Programs run by individual teachers run the risk of lasting no longer than their tenure in a school. Making sure more than one person knows how to do it is huge Sandrin says pointing to team teaching structures in place at some schools. Building interest and support for such programs among the greater faculty is also critical to ensure long-term support. Have a salad staff day Ray advises. As soon as some people taste a salad its hook line and sinker. FERTILE GROUND FOR LEARNING A Case Study for the NEA Foundation16 Washington DC 20036 1201 16th Street NW T 202-822-7840 F 202-822-7779