My 3,436 Mile Journey to Life Lab – Reflections from Intern Callia Wolfe

It is not often that we have graduate level interns, who have classroom experience, and are proficient with a video camera and editing. We lucked out! Callia Wolfe shares a bit about her path to finding us and her experience at the Garden Classroom. Callia writes….

I have heard it called many things: destiny, kismet, serendipity. All terms referring to the moment when your path opens, you can feel a "yes" in your body and your intuition rings clear like a bell. Finding the education department at Antioch University New England in Keene, NH was one of those “yes” moments. I knew the school's progressive flavor and commitment to a sustainable world would support a student like me with my vision, passion and ambition to bring positive change to the world. In August, 2010, I began the path toward earning my Master’s in Education with teaching licensure, concentrating on science and environmental education. My original vision was simply to use the garden to teach kids and have my hands in the earth. My understanding of the multitude of levels that are supported when learning from real-life, outdoors and hands-on experience has grown significantly from my fantastic internship experiences. I have seen and been a part of the transformative effect the garden has on kids, the school, the community, and the earth.

My first internship was in a fourth grade classroom in a ‘failing’ Title I school in Brattleboro, VT. I was lucky enough to intern with a dynamic, committed, eight- year teacher, Laura White. About three years into her teaching career, she spearheaded the installation and use of the school garden for planting, harvesting, nutrition education, cooking and more. She also created a year long, place-based natural resource unit that aligned with state standards while connecting students to 10 local farms through field trips. The students celebrated the culmination of the unit by cooking a dinner made from local farm foods for 200 people in their community. Laura also brought in school-wide farm-to-school taste tests so that students could taste and decide on what they wanted served in their school lunches. The fact that 97% of K-6th graders tried the local roasted turnip was one of the many triumphs.

Watching all this happen, it became clear to me that it takes a community. None of these visions would have been possible without the generous support of parents, administrators, cafeteria staff, farmers, and local businesses. Though Vermont is known for supporting it’s local farmers, I have no doubt that this support for local food systems through education could be replicated anywhere in the country. Green Street School is proof that even amongst the rising pressure for passing scores and endless testing, it can be done. The following link connects to a video of the introduction for the 2011 the local dinner.

For my second internship and final semester at a distance, I wanted to get to the heart of the school garden movement in the non-profit world. In my research I discovered that, while many people believe the school garden movement really took off in 1996 with the Edible Schoolyard, Life Lab has been busy creating curriculum, installing gardens, training teachers nationwide, and more since 1979! I was so excited to have found the authority in this field and to see that they are still active and leading the crest of the school garden wave in curriculum, nutrition education, science, youth empowerment and more! With over 30 years of experience, they know what works and what doesn’t better than anyone. I felt that clear "yes" once again after connecting to Life Lab, and decided to make the 3,436 mile drive to Santa Cruz. Another factor in my decision was Life Lab’s outstanding reputation. The feedback I get from everyone who has worked with Life Lab is always the same. I see the same huge smiles and eager exclamations, “I LOVE LIFE LAB!” After three months here, I understand the enthusiasm completely. It is truly a gift to work with people who are generous, humble, and passionate about what they do. My time here as an intern has been a rich, joyful, and delicious experience.

I will leave in late December with skills and experience teaching in the outdoor classroom that can easily translate to any school or farm. I know how to create and manage a garden and students in an outdoor space. I can create lessons across all subject areas in the garden and activities that are hands-on, engaging, safe, effective and memorable. If I forget or need a refresher, I have Life Lab’s super easy to use curriculum resources like The Growing Classroom to remind me. Whether I end up as a classroom teacher or in the non-profit world, I feel incredibly well prepared and capable of supporting the school garden movement in this country. Thank you Life Lab! I raise my glass of fresh-pressed organic apple juice to you all!

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