Bringing the Garden to Students: Thousands of Garden Kits Distributed by Climate Corps Education Outside
By Dru Marion
As the name would suggest, SEI’s Climate Corps Education Outside (CCEO) program typically works with students outdoors. Usually CCEO educators use on-campus school gardens as their classrooms, but that rapidly changed in March 2020 with COVID-19 school closures. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CCEO team has discussed the possibility of distributing supplies to students so that they could grow plants at home, but for a long time this project seemed impossible in the face of logistical barriers.
Ten months later this idea finally became a reality when the CCEO program brought a little bit of the outdoors into the home learning spaces of almost 10,000 students. With support from SF Rec and Park, the SF Botanical Gardens, and SF Children and Nature, the program provided “garden kits'' to every student at twenty-five schools in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Mateo County. Each kit contains soil, biodegradable pots, seeds, science notebooks, and magnifying glasses, as well as access to a ““Welcome to Your Garden Kit” website.
On a Monday morning in January, fifteen cubic yards of soil were deposited in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Over the next five days CCEO educators and staff worked tirelessly to scoop that massive pile of soil into 9,700 gallon sized plastic bags by hand. Separated at a twelve foot distance, with masks and other safety precautions in place CCEO fellows packaged and divided garden kit materials in daylong shifts. Bags of soil were stacked alongside packages of sugar snap pea and fava bean seeds, boxes of pots, and journals in a large gymnasium room, each collection of materials representing one elementary school.
The CCEO fellows then created the individual garden kits for students and distributed them to families on their school campuses. According to Elexis Padron, who works at Roosevelt Elementary School in Redwood City, "Putting together garden kits for all 530 elementary students at my school was no small feat of time or physical endurance, but it was worth it to hear the excitement in the students' voices as they shared with me that their seeds have started to sprout!"
Over the course of the semester, CCEO educators will integrate the garden kits into their virtual lessons making connections to the science topics they teach such as plant parts, food systems, soil science, and decomposition. Students will be able to make scientific observations and drawings, measure growth rate, or even do an experiment comparing low and high light exposure. One CCEO Fellow even created a seed planting how-to video with the same materials their students received (and another made a Spanish version).
“Community building while teaching virtually has been especially challenging this year but sharing in one activity altogether over Zoom almost makes you feel like the whole class is in one virtual garden,” said Shannon Mo who recently planted garden kits with their students during an online lesson. Mo shared, “ My favorite moment so far has been this week when I asked one of my 5th grade classes if their seeds had sprouted yet, one student, upon seeing that some of his classmates' seeds had sprouted, ran to check on his plants and then came back with his planter in hand, and unmuted to yell ‘It's ERUPTED!!’"
Learn more about Climate Corps Education Outside and the work we do to advance science education and environmental literacy by bringing learning outdoors here.
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