The New York State School Boards Association recently honored New Paltz Central School District with the “Be the Change for Kids 2012 Innovation Award” for the district’s K12 Green Classrooms project.
The Green Classroom project is comprised of organic gardens at New Paltz Middle School and High School and Duzine and Lenape Elementary schools, Jim O’Dowd, a member of the Health Advisory Committee that brought this project into fruition, said.
Superintendent Maria Rice said in a press release from the school district that the projects, known as the K12 Gardens, are all externally funded and maintained through donations and grants and are similar to students “taking a field trip without leaving school grounds.”
“The K12 Gardens provide interdisciplinary and project-based opportunities for our students to learn through direct, hands-on experiences throughout their entire educational career,” Rice said.
O’Dowd said although the K12 Gardens might consist of fruits and vegetables they are not necessarily for food, but are actually a hybrid of a “classroom/laboratory” where students can experience what it takes to get plants to grow from seeds to the finished product.
“[The project] seemed like a good way of equating children with the fact that food doesn’t just come in plastic containers and it’s something they can touch and see,” O’Dowd said. “By seeing them be a part of the whole natural process of watching plants grow they might feel more comfortable trying vegetables and trying different food options.”
Although this program is being recognized now, O’Dowd said he introduced this idea to the committee more than four years ago after reading about similar projects at other schools and speaking with a teacher/farmer that works for the Brook Farm project in New Paltz.
Following this meeting, he said, the project was incorporated into the committee’s Wellness Action Plan and started at the middle school.
O’Dowd said the gardening program expanded to other schools in the district after two years due to the interests of parents, students and especially teachers.
“Teachers have used [the gardens] in innovative ways to actually teach math and science and art,” he said. “Some of the teachers have taken this project and run with it, without the teachers there wouldn’t be gardens at Duzine and Lenape.”
Rice said she has faith that the K12 Gardens are meeting their goal of fostering a positive learning environment for each student in all four schools in the New Paltz district.
“We have met our prime objective to bring a basic awareness to children of healthy plant-based food options while at the same time helping students gain knowledge in science, literacy, social studies, nutrition and the environment,” Rice said in the press release. “The development of the K12 Green Classroom in our schools underscores our dedication to the district’s vision to help our students become citizens of the world who are responsible, ethical, contributing, participating members of local, national and global communities who value all peoples and care about each other, respecting the environment, working to improve the society in which we live and understanding our role in it.”