Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

Pajaro Valley Initiative

 

Advancing and Sustaining Garden-based Learning in the Pajaro Valley

In 2014 we began reaching out to partners old and new in the Watonsville schools and community to share a three-part vision for Life Lab service to the region:

1)  Offer training, coaching, garden design, instruction support, college interns, and Common Core connected curriculum to teachers at Amesti, Starlight, Macquiddy, Ann Soldo and Hall Distict Elementary Schools, to expand and enrich garden-based learning opportunities in school gardens, particularly during in-school time. Learn more about Watsonville School Garden Project.

2)  Develop a new Blooming Classroom educational garden at a Watonsville farm to provide field trip programs in science exploration, garden-enhanced nutrition education, and connection with nature. View Blooming Classroom Photos

3)  Faciitate a dialogue among school and community leaders to develop a long-term model of sustained funding to continue this work, drawing on Life Lab’s national network of partners with successful regional support models to craft a plan specifically for the Pajaro Valley.

The third element is key: we intend to build robust programs and professional learning communities that will last, continuing to provide greater learning opportunities for Pajaro Valley children for decades to come. To do so, we will partner with grantmakers and donors initially while working to institutionalize long-term funding by 2018. The students at these elementary schools are 90% eligible for federal free and reduced cost lunch programs, 95% Latina/o, and 75% English language learners. Research from our own and others’ programs show tremendous academic and health benefits from garden-based education programs for these young populations, opening lifelong opportunities they may otherwise lack. This work is vital to Life Lab and inspires our long-term commitment.

 

Life Lab has partnered with people, schools, organizations and agencies on garden-based learning projects in Watsonville and the broader Pajaro Valley of southern Santa Cruz County a number of times since our founding in 1979. We’ve worked directly with children, trained and mentored teachers, helped design and build educational gardens, and connected people with similar interests and visions. Young lives were changed for the better through greater educational opportunity, health and wellness, and connection with nature. Yet, as happens in many communities, projects ended with their funding and long-term momentum waxed and waned.

In 2013 we were reexamining this history and how best to share Life Lab’s special resources with more Pajaro Valley children now and in the future when a transformative dialogue began. We co-launched California FoodCorps and placed a service member at H.A. Hyde Elementary School in collaboration with the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), a longtime partner in farm-to-school work, to support and expand existing garden activities there. Then a retired flower farmer inspired by Life Lab’s mission and programs offered us her Watsonville farm as a place for educational opportunities for local children. Having a beautiful site just five to ten minutes from the public elementary schools we want to serve provided a special opportunity for a longer term vision. The conversation continued and a pledge of four-year seed funding for new programs breathed life into this opportunity.

Pajaro Valley School Garden Project

Instructional school gardens have been shown to enhance test scores and social skills and have been linked to improved attitudes and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables by students. In the 1990’s, through our Language Acquisition in Science Education For Rural Schools Program, Life Lab was a major influence in the initial development of school gardens throughout the Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD).

Currently in the PVUSD there are more struggling school garden programs than thriving ones. We plan to reverse this by supporting school garden program development at all interested elementary school sites. Starting with a select number of elementary schools, and collaborating with existing farm to school and school garden allies, this work will be accomplished through a multi-year process of layering in additional training, staffing and curricular resources.

For questions related to the PVUSD School Garden Project, contact John Fisher at gardendirector@lifelab.org

School Garden Project Phases:

Phase one:

  • Identify and partner with committed schools.
  • Place FoodCorps Americorps service members to serve as school garden instructors and coordinators alongside teachers.
  • Teachers and their classes will share two garden lessons per month at their site.
  • Life Lab staff and FoodCorps service members will coordinate college student teams of school garden interns to assist in garden maintenance, school garden events, and instruction.
  • Track student impacts related to school garden instruction, using FoodCorps’s extensive reporting and assessment methods and additional outside evaluators.

Phase two:

  • Life Lab will provide professional development opportunities for classroom teachers focusing on the garden lesson cycle. Continuing education credit will be provided for teachers.
  • Life Lab will provide lesson plan modeling and coaching to classroom teachers, FoodCorps service members, and UCSC interns.
  • Teachers and their classes will share two garden lessons per month at their site.
  • College interns will continue to assist with garden maintenace and school garden promotional activities.
  • Ongoing assessment of student impacts related to increased school garden programming.

Phase three:

  • Classroom teachers will be invited to attend additional professional development and networking events.
  • College interns will continue to assist with garden maintenace and school garden promotional activities.
  • Ongoing assessment of student impacts related to increased school garden programming.

The Blooming Classroom

Read the Blooming Classroom cover story from the July 2015 Child Health and Disability Prevention Program Newsletter.

Since 2001 Life Lab’s Garden Classroom, located on the UC Santa Cruz Farm, has served tens of thousands of local students through field trip with farm-to-plate programs, nutrition education, and grade-level science exploration.

PVUSD have been underrepresented in Garden Classroom field trips due to distance, cost of transportation and competitive demand for field trip dates. We are developing the Blooming Classroom at our farm in western Watsonville as a venue for repeat-visit field trip opportunities for selected, high-need PVUSD elementary schools.

For questions related to the Blooming Classroom contact Cara Sundell at cara@lifelab.org

Blooming Classroom Goals:

  • PVUSD Elementary School Students will engage in three annual field trips focusing on science exploration, nutrition education, and connecting with nature.
  • Field Trip explorations will reinforce school garden program lessons and learning.
  • 15 college students will serve PVUSD students through garden-based education internships each year, providing small group lessons and interactions during field trips.

Pajaro Valley School Garden Support Model

The community process to develop a model for sustained long-term funding and staffing of these programs is a core element of the Pajaro Valley Initiative. We have begun conversations with PVUSD district staff, teachers and administrators; local and regional farm-to-school program providers; city council members and other community leaders about this goal. Partners have jumped in enthusiastically, coordinating fresh surveying and mapping of existing school gardens, programs and needs and participating in gatherings to discuss the state of garden-based education in the community. We are excited to welcome more minds and voices to the table, as we look ahead to building the long-term support model.

We are uniquely positioned to bring successful models and knowledge from other communities across the U.S. to this Pajaro Valley dialogue: Life Lab is a leader and facilitator of the National School Garden Network, which we co-founded in 2012 to focus specifically on sharing regional support models. For example, school garden programs are sustained in the City of Santa Cruz through property tax assessments; in Washington, D.C. they are part of a wellness program underwritten by a soda tax; in Dallas and San Francisco they benefit from long-term private funding. When the Watsonville community develops a successful model, refining elements of these other models to fit the specific circumstances here, Life Lab will also be a conduit to share this new model with others nationally, to replicate in similar communities around the U.S.

For questions related to the Pajaro Valley School Garden Support Model and to join in this vital community dialogue, contact John Fisher at gardendirector@lifelab.org

 

Photos

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Blooming Classroom

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Have you heard?! Life Lab is one of New Leaf Community Markets' recipients of their EnviroToken program for their Westside Santa Cruz store! So get your shopping on, bring your reusable bags, and donate 10¢ to Life Lab with every bag you use! Thank you, New Leaf!
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We are so grateful to be starting 2018 with such strong support! Because of so many generous gifts from our supporters like you, we surpassed our 2017 fundraising goal of $124,000, with all campaign donations totaling $125,835.

These funds will help make Life Lab field trip and summer camp programs possible for children from families and schools that could otherwise not afford them. We believe that ALL children deserve the chance to love learning, healthy food, and nature. Thanks to your support, this year we will serve even more children in Santa Cruz County and across the nation.

THANK YOU!

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Happy almost 2018, Life Lab fans! We are only $809 dollars away from reaching our $124,000 year-end fundraising goal! Before you ring in the new year, will you help us ensure a promising 2018? 100% of the funds necessary to do this important work come from grants and from individuals like you. Will you join us in ensuring that we can continue to deepen and expand our reach, so that even more children can experience the joy of loving learning, healthy food, and nature? Your tax-deductible gift made by midnight tonight will go directly to supporting our programs.
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End the year making a life-chaning difference!
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With women and people of color still underrepresented in scientific fields, "I'm a scientist!" is a powerful statement coming from a 2nd grade girl in Watsonville. It came during a field trip to our Blooming Classroom field trip program. Young students look at flowers on living plants in the garden, see pollinators interacting with them, and pick a flower to dissect and explore its parts. Then they draw the flower and label all the parts they learned about in a lesson with our garden educators. This hands-on, garden-based science in action, and the feeling it gives students is exciting!

These ah-ha moments happen all the time at Life Lab, inspiring children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature. 100% of the funds needed to create these life-changing experiences come from grants and from individuals like you. Will you join us in ensuring that thousands of children each year can experience the joy of hands-on garden-based learning? Your tax-deductible gift will go directly to supporting our programs.

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We all know that hands-on experiences are critical to learning. No one would dream of teaching technology without computers: in fact, in many schools today they are mandating 30 minutes of screen time per student, per day. Why on earth with this understanding are we trying to teach earth and life science without giving them exposure to earth and life? School gardens are spaces--outdoor classrooms--where students can learn science and apply math and language arts, in a context that feels relevant to them. And what might happen if we elevated the status of hands-on, experiential, outdoor learning? What might happen if schools started mandating 30 minutes of dirt time per student per day? This would be time where they could apply what they're learning in the classroom outdoors to the world around them and develop a connection to it. Well that’s what we’re here to find out!
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"This field trip was a fun experience that taught me how to eat healthy food in a fun way." -6th grader on a Feeling Fine with Fresh Foods Field Trip
Help grow the next generation of healthy eaters!
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Life Lab has been the most innovative and relevant organization in this field. From providing the best curriculum to their cutting edge professional development, we have relied on Life Lab as our go to organization for support, ideas, and collaboration.
Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside
Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.
Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps
Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.
Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary
Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.
Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom