GG Latest Dig: School Garden Coordinator Certificate Training

Saturday October 30th was the last of six training sessions for Growing Gardens fall School Garden Coordinator Certificate Training (SGCCT). 25 participants – teachers, parents, community members – working with schools in nearby school districts- took this 35 hour course in order to learn best practices in garden teaching and organizing, and how to avoid some of the pitfalls that bedevil even the best-planned school garden.

Fall 2010 graduates (not everyone is pictured)

The training was developed in 2008-2009 by a group of community experts. Lead by GG’s Youth Grow Manager Caitlin Blethen, the program was piloted in 2009, and has since been offered three times (including this fall) – graduating over 60 individuals. Participants receive a certificate if they complete 80% of the training hours and submit a final presentation. Additionally, participants can elect to receive 3 continuing education credits from Portland State University’s Graduate School of Education.

SGCCT pilot participants June 2009

Shara Alexander, a parent at Winterhaven is a recent graduate of the training and shares her experience of the training:

The training began with a challenge: In order to turn garden concepts into reality we need to be able answer this question: How does a school garden catalyze curricular, physical and social learning for children? Michelle Ratcliffe, Oregon Department of Agriculture Farm to School Manager presented a framework that can help us communicate to teachers, administrators and parents the urgent need for outdoor garden based education and experience. Sarah Howell of the Western States Center described how to create an organization that grows out of the skills and strengths of the community it serves, and how to make meetings fun, productive and inclusive.

Participants learn about worm composting

A garden site plan can help us develop a garden that increases learning and pleasure and decreases drudgery. The physical aspects of the garden – orientation of paths and beds, forethought about tools, supplies and storage needs, and signage to engage and educate neighbors and volunteers should be anticipated and planned early in the process. Garden educator and designer Jen Aron taught us some basic design techniques in a great setting – the Learning Gardens Laboratory.

Participants work on garden site planning

We also had a dialogue with Nancy Bond from Portland Public Schools Facilities and Melissa Martin from PPS Nutrition Services. A partnership with these key people is necessary – and they make it easy. They reiterated their support for developing school gardens and bringing clean garden produce into the school kitchens.

There are lots of other opportunities to connect kids to gardens and garden curriculum including after school or summer garden clubs, SUN or aftercare programs, electives, fundraisers and community food sharing or skill building events. We had a chance to tour four school gardens, play decomposer tag, sheet mulch and Q and A with school garden staff.

This program brings together some of the best resources in the area, and gives us all a chance to have fun together and learn how to solve some of the problems that come up in developing a school garden. The 25 participants left the training ready to take what they learned back to their schools and communities, where they will be able to support the creation of sustainable school gardens that can be used by teachers, students, families, and the whole community. I have already used the lessons from this course to organize my garden committee and communicate with the staff and volunteers at Winterhaven.

Thanks very much to Growing Gardens!

The next GG School Garden Coordinator Certificate training will be held in early spring 2011. For more information or to receive an application, please contact Caitlin at (503)284.8420 or find info on GG’s website. We are also developing a referral system for schools to be matched with graduates of this training to help their efforts in establishing edible school gardens.

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