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The Incredible Edible Schoolyard
By David W. Kirkpatrick (September 13, 2007)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us
One of the inconsistencies of the public school establishment is the criticism that charter schools tend not to be all that different from traditional public schools. This from a group that, on at least one occasion, considered it a reform when a world globe was added to a classroom. They have also consistently opposed charter schools because of a fear that they not only might introduce alternative education models but do so successfully..
More importantly the criticism is both irrelevant and incorrect.
Irrelevant in that while charter school advocates often argued that this development would permit innovation there is no requirement that they to do so. Even those that are traditional in their structure they may be unusual in their operations since they have more control over staff selection, curriculum, textbooks, and the like.
The critics are incorrect in claiming charter schools do not vary appreciably from standard schools. As but one example, consider the growing cyber charter schools which do not have a school building much less a standard one.
Dozens of individual charter schools now enroll the majority of students in New Orleans, for whom they provide a variety of choices.
The topic at hand is nonstandard charter schools, and a variation that it is almost literally unique since there apparently only two examples at the moment, although they each hope others will follow.
The first of two "Edible Schoolyard" schools is the MLK Middle School in Berkeley, California, a project of chef Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse Foundation. Tony Recasner, principal of the Samuel J. Green Charter School in New Orleans became interested in this concept and the California school has served as a model for a second Edible Schoolyard program in Recasner's school. Recasner is hopeful that his school, in turn, may be a model for other charter schools in New Orleans and beyond.
The idea of growing some fruits and/or vegetables on school grounds is not without some examples here and there but the Edible Schoolyard, as its name implies, goes well beyond growing a few plants. The idea is consciously integrated into the school curriculum, lunch program and the school's operations. Both teachers and students take part in planning and tending the garden as well as cooking serving and eating the resulting harvest.
Unlike most New Orleans charter schools, Green was established in 1999, well before the destruction wrought by Katrina two years ago. Furthermore, it was already successful. For example, it was the leading public school in New Orleans and has been termed one of the "100 Best Bets" among U.S. Charter schools in the nation. In 2005-06 its 275 students were 99% African-American, almost equally divided among boys and girls. 75% were from single family homes, almost all of whom qualified for the federal free lunch program. Students from this background typically have dietary habits that may lead to obesity, diabetes, hypertension and tooth decay. A better diet and understanding of related details may at least alleviate if not totally overcome such conditions.
It's a tribute to principal Recasner and his staff that they were willing to introduce significant changes when they already had such a record of achievement. It would have been difficult to criticize them if they had been unwilling to tamper with their success.
So what is involved with an "Edible Schoolyard?" Measuring the layout of a garden can be a math lesson while how bread rises presents an opportunity to study science. Farming, even on a limited scale, involves economics and the environment, preparing and eating proper meals is a matter of nutrition, etc.
The school developed a kitchen classroom with a glass wall looking out upon a small garden. In addition to this there is a larger garden of more than half an acre to meet the needs of the school. Its first garden last year produced tomatoes, strawberries ands herbs. Cooperation with area farmers also introduced the students to fresh local foods.
A study by Harvard Medical School concluded there are advantages beyond the curriculum and a better diet. Student behavior improved, and there were fewer emotional problems. Students became better informed about ecology while there has been an improvement in their grades.
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What Winston Churchill said in 1942 of World War II might be said today of the attempt to reform the public schools: "This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
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Copyright 2007 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633