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The Verde Partnership Garden is a school and community garden project committed to growing healthy children along with food and flowers. The garden is an outdoor laboratory that brings classroom learning to life and a connective hub and safe haven in the community. Working together with parents, Verde Elementary School teachers and community members, we provide cooking, nutrition, job readiness, literacy and leadership classes, fresh vegetables for the community, a student run business, and service-learning opportunities for students to make positive changes in their world.
EDUCATION The focus of the education program is to introduce children to gardening and the life science concepts that go along with it such as natural cycles, habitats, plant and animal communities, ecology, and nutrition. In addition, the program's focus is to strengthen fundamental education in math, science, reading and nutrition through capitalizing on children's enthusiasm for the garden. Garden-based activities integrated with the state mandated Open Court curriculum, such as raising butterflies, starting a garden business, making tortillas and learning fractions through cooking successfully marry academic learning with hands-on experience. Garden staff work closely with teachers to insure that activities tie into classroom study and help address State Academic Standards. Students also engage in Service-Learning projects where they partner with community groups to make positive changes in their neighborhood. The garden has proven to be an excellent place to forge real-life relationships with subject areas that children may initially perceive as abstract and disconnected from their daily lives. NUTRITION Growing food in the garden teaches children about nutrition and about loving fresh, healthy food. Healthy eating is a habit--one that students practice as they make peanut butter, salsa, carrot juice, salad sandwiches and cooked greens in the garden. Most of our garden groups also include a nutrition education component. An additional aspect of our nutrition program is providing cooking classes in conjunction with a local chef. LEADERSHIP AND JOB READINESS Our shared vision of excellence at Verde Elementary includes students as active leaders in their North Richmond community and the community at large. Building on the sense of ownership, knowledge and pride children have for the garden the "Garden Leaders" program helps upper grade students develop responsibility, respect for elders and leadership skills. Youth leadership provides opportunities for students to teach and mentor younger students and through doing increase their self-esteem, communication skills and sense of agency. Last year, Garden Leaders taught Kindergarten students enrolled at the on-site day care facility. Through partnering older students with younger students, younger students can have more of their academic and emotional needs met. Upper grade garden leaders are paired with lower grade students to teach and help them complete basic garden activities. Garden leaders also meet periodically for in-depth learning about garden related topics with the goal of teaching other students about the garden. Students are also learning business and entrepreneurial skills through starting their own business selling garden products. The fifth grade class has developed a business plan, a research and development team and are working on a line of soap and other herbal health care products they plan to sell their products at nearby farmers markets. Fourth grade students created their own garden cards. Other business projects have included bookmarks, herbal salve, wreaths, potpourri, candles, and lots of vegetables and flowers. LIFE-SKILLS The life-skills aspect of the program is embedded in all garden activities. Many kinds of relationships thrive in the garden environment. Children and parents gardening together enrich family bonds. People of different cultures working together learn acceptance. School and neighboring businesses have noticed a decrease in vandalism in the area surrounding the garden, and teachers report that previously identified "problem children" demonstrate positive behavioral changes after becoming engaged in garden activities. By forging healthy relationships and seeing their hard work affect their environment, children gain self-esteem and learn that their actions have positive consequences.
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