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Ready, Set, Grow: Growing Sustainably brings the classroom outdoors

“This reminds me exactly of what we were learning in class this week!” an SJSU freshman studying Child and Adolescent Development (ChAD) recants after one particularly challenging garden education workshop in a 4th grade classroom. During this lesson on photosynthesis and what it takes for a plant to grow, this intern reflected back to behavior management techniques learned in a recent lecture to assist two children resolve a dispute over sharing a watering can. 

This unique program is a prime model of CommUniverCity’s experiential education goals. Not only are elementary school students able to increase their understanding of natural sciences by utilizing the outdoor garden, SJSU students are able to practice methodology and witness theories discussed in class in a real classroom. 

Growing Sustainably, a garden and healthy cooking education program offered to local elementary schools, is a multi-tiered learning program managed by CommUniverCity. In this program, undergraduate students act as interns, teaching hands-on garden education and after school gardening clubs. Those studying ChAD, Environmental Studies, Elementary Education, Public Health, or Nutrition apply the skills and knowledge they gain in their SJSU courses toward lesson plan development, classroom management, public speaking, and children’s behavior within the context of the in-class education programming. Each semester, a team of 6-8 interns work in pairs to administer lessons on grade-level Earth science, climate change, sustainability, and gardening 101 within the context of on-site raised garden beds.

While students are learning across many platforms, they are also having fun! Fourth graders learn about the water cycle while simultaneously watering seedlings; after school clubs learn about the importance of pollinators by playing bug-to-plant matching games and spreading seeds of native flowers; kindergarteners learn to write the names of the colors of the rainbow by matching and taste testing a variety of fruits and vegetables, from raspberries to purple yams. Besides an increase in understanding of science topics, student participants also demonstrate an increase in consumption and willingness to try fruits and vegetables, increased desire to be in nature, and an increase in understanding of how food gets to our dinner tables. 

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