Practitioner Article Synthesis

Teachers Find Creative Ways to Implement and Utilize School Gardens

In “Meet a Teacher Who is Using Plants to Change Student’s Lives,” teacher Kate Stoltzfus profiles Stephen Ritz, an educator in the Bronx. Ritz quit his job as a teacher in the poorest district in the country to become a full-time school volunteer. He works with Bronx students to grow food and flowers in schools and around neighborhoods. In “Using Gardens as Classrooms,” community developer Kristin Stayer discusses ways to implement gardening and food awareness in the classroom. She emphasizes the ways that food can be used to increase cultural understanding and appreciation. While Stayer focuses on the interpersonal impact that gardening can have in connecting people and cultures, Stoltzfus discusses the intrapersonal effects like increased self-esteem and improved academic performance.

What They Found:

  • Benefits: Gardens can be used to teach math, science, cooking, and a vessel to discuss culture and history in schools.
  • The Problem: School  gardens have all these benefits for involved students, but for schools in lower income areas, it can be harder to implement them
  • The Solution: Dedicated teachers like Stephen Ritz can use technologies like EarthBox and get free seeds and bulbs from donors to create gardens in schools, and inspire students to continue them in their communities at home.

These two articles help create a broader understanding of how classroom gardening is really implemented in urban public schools. Stoltzfus demonstrates this by profiling a low income school in the Bronx that saw dramatic improvements in student scores and attendance after it started a regular gardening program. In a similar vein, Stayer discusses the cultural understanding that classroom gardening can create when students interact with other people and organizations who are doing the same things.

School Benefits

Both articles discuss a myriad of positive impacts that gardening can have on urban public school students. Ritz noticed that after he began to implement a comprehensive gardening program in his classroom, students were visibly more engaged. Working with the plants and indoor gardening technologies like vertical planters helped students improve math and science skills. Ritz used germination times and plot areas to teach fractions, statistics, ratios, and proportions. These changes were well documented by the school. By the end of the year, the school had “reduced behavioral incidents by 50 percent, and after a second year, the school increased its passing rates on 2015-16 state science exams by 45 percent.” (Stoltzfus, 2017). Stayer also describes opportunities for practical applications. She suggests that classes take trips to farmers markets to practice math skills in real life and meet other gardeners. Visiting and discussing greenhouses and hydroponic gardens also a way to bring in examples of scientific innovation.

Community and Cultural Benefits

Just as Stayer suggests using gardening to increase community interaction, Ritz helps his students grow flowers all over the city. Students have planted 15,000 daffodil bulbs around New York City, which allows them to spread the positive impacts that gardening had on their own lives all around the school. Many even got to take home bags of fresh produce they had grown to their communities. Stayer recommends that teachers connect their students to gardeners and scientists all over the world. Teachers can consider using video chats to communicate student’s questions, and help them feel connected to a larger gardening community, creating positive intergenerational role models. Both articles stress the importance of creating connections between students and the outside world, so both can realize the worldwide significance of their work. Stayer further emphasizes this by discussing the cultural connections in food.  Students can increase cultural awareness, and will have a better understanding of “how food connects the world,” (Stayer, 2014).

Video of Stephen Ritz and His Class