In looking for examples of schools creating new opportunities for their students and neighborhoods, we have drawn inspiration from the United Kingdom. The national government there has made a commitment to creating sustainable schools and wants every school to follow a sustainability-focused curriculum by 2020. The UK Department of Education believes that every school should teach students to positively impact the planet and their community (school farms included!).
According to the sustainable schools framework created in the UK, almost every successful project or program within a school has clear ties to the campus, community, and curriculum. . This tripod of campus, community and curriculum allows for a project to have broad impact and foundational support. The Farm at Walker Jones has clear connections to the utilization of campus property, has made use of local businesses and volunteers, and we have been working hard to make sure that the farm is integral to teaching and learning at the school.
The Farm at Walker Jones more than being a food production farm or a community gathering place, is an outdoor classroom. It is an environment that can support the schools dedication to campus, community, teaching and learning. We have put energy into starting a half-acre farm next to the school because we believe that students need learning environments outside of four walls, a smart board, and worksheets. The work on creating this environment has just begun, but there are opportunities for hands on learning, innovative content creation, teacher and student investment and project-base learning.
Hands on Learning
The farm has the potential to inspire teachers and students to create learning experiences that live with Walker Jones’ students for years to come. We can remember seminal moments of pulling carrots and plucking beans at a grandparent’s or aunt/uncle’s house and gaining a deeper appreciation for where food comes from. The farm has the potential to create that experience for hundreds of District students and can create a venue for students to experiment with hands on learning from science and math to economics and anthropology.
Content is Key
The potential for the farm to be a driving force in curriculum content is massive. The fact that clear and easy to understand examples from the farm can be used to teach measurement in a math classroom or botany and life cycles in science class is mentioned by many people that casually stop by the farm. The opportunities that the farm presents to address school and community health and wellness issues will be a key focus to our work this year. The challenge in addressing how to make connections between the farm and curriculum will not be finding great content examples, but will be in finding the best ways to allow students and teachers to access farm resources and opportunities.
In moving the farm curriculum forward it will be essential to allow teachers the autonomy to decide what ways the farm could best be incorporated into the curriculum. The strength of the farm will be in the numerous ways teachers find to use it to support teaching and learning at the farm and in their individual classrooms. Prescribing a formal mandatory curriculum, while in some ways tempting, will not fulfill the potential the farm has to be a transformational force within the Walker Jones’ campus, curriculum and community.
Eventually, the goal is not just that the farm become a place for teacher autonomy and to be a platform for innovative instruction, but it can be an environment that gives students a platform to create their own research projects and educational experiences. The farm has the potential to be a platform for everything from small business creation to urban agricultural research, as well as an inspiring place for a five year old to create important connections at an early age that could lead to complex future endeavors.
We have only put a few words to paper and a few marks in the soil this summer, but the potential for the farm to be an exciting component of Walker Jones’ offerings is in front of us. Volunteers, partnerships with organization and businesses, and open thinking between teachers, parents, and students, will give the school numerous opportunities to make the farm a catalyst for innovation and learning. It’s time to work hard and get creative.
– Braden Kay