Kathryn Fontenot, Bush, Edward W., Motsenbocker, Carl E.
Celine Richard, Kiki Fontenot, Edward Bush, Pam Blanchard and Carl Motsenbocker
The LSU AgCenter, which has been recruiting and constructing new gardens in Louisiana schools since 2010, has recently received a U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop grant to fund and train teachers and install 100 school gardens across the state. Additionally, funding was made possible through the Louisiana Farm to School Program and an interagency agreement between the AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Education Division of Nutrition Services to create and implement a school garden leadership workshop for educators.
When developing the school garden leadership workshop series, the AgCenter addressed the most common knowledge areas necessary for educational success. This study targeted two of the barriers most commonly faced by school garden programs. First, participants were provided with basic garden knowledge. Second, participants were provided with curricula linking the garden to core subjects (math, science, technology, engineering, nutrition, physical education, social studies and art) using the Louisiana Department of Education approved Louisiana Student Standards.
In 2019, a five-day school garden leadership workshop was conducted at the LSU AgCenter Botanic Gardens in Baton Rouge. Horticulture-based sessions included raised bed construction and irrigation installation; pest (insect, weed and disease) management; vegetable, fruit and herb garden basics; composting, soil and fertility management; pollination, pollinizers and native plants. Education-based topics focused on incorporating gardens into curriculum and included garden-based science and engineering; art and reading; history and social studies; physical exercise, health and nutrition; math and agriculture.
Two, three-hour training sessions were offered each day via indoor and outdoor activities and lectures. One horticulture topic and one education-based topic were presented on each of the five days. To receive an official certificate for continuing education units, participants had to attend seven of the 10 sessions. Each three-hour session counted toward three CEUs for participants with complete attendance.
The workshop activities not only instructed teachers how to become better horticulturists but also provided materials to establish school gardens. For instance, when discussing native plants, all teachers went home with seeds, cuttings and divisions of native plants. Enough plants were provided for each teacher to establish a pollinator garden. Half of the teachers received a compost bin to use at their school, and the other half received a worm bin. All teachers constructed mason bee houses. All teachers constructed raised garden boxes and beds, and the finished products were distributed for use in participants’ schools.
Sixteen teachers completed surveys to assess knowledge gained during the workshop. Teachers were asked to rate each anticipated garden activity as seeing themselves “very likely,” “slightly likely” or “not at all likely” to complete the specific task in the 2019-2020 school year. With the exception of the activities “plant a school garden” and “plant spring vegetables,” all anticipated garden activities fell in the “very likely” category after teachers completed the School Garden Teacher Leadership Certificate.
The results indicated that overall teacher behavior related to school gardens was changed in a positive manner. Overall garden knowledge of the workshop topics increased significantly from 44% to 75% comparing pre-test and post-test scores. Average test scores significantly increased in 17 of the 24 questions indicating knowledge gain. When comparing individual questions, average teacher knowledge increased in all 24 questions, although the gain was not significant for seven of the 24 questions. Additional teacher gardening leadership programs are planned for the summers of 2020 and 2021.
Celine Richard is a graduate student, Kiki Fontenot is an associate professor and extension specialist, and Edward Bush is a professor in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences; Pam Blanchard is an associate professor in the LSU School of Education; and Carl Motsenbocker is a professor in the School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences.
(This article appears in the winter 2020 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
The LSU AgCenter has been helping schools develop educational gardening programs since 2010 and has recently been awarded a U.S. Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop grant to fund and train teachers and install 100 new school gardens in Louisiana. Photo by Betsy Jeansonne