Facing a crisis of childhood obesity and diabetes in our society largely caused by processed and fast foods, school educators are fighting back harder than ever. Their efforts to create and run school garden programs have grown steadily over the past seven years to teach children how to grow and prepare healthy foods and the importance of sustainability.
More than 100 teachers, students and community members from throughout the state of Hawaii, and as far away as Guam and the mainland U.S., gathered June 7 at Hawaii Preparatory Academy to discuss ideas and share the ways they have integrated gardens into their schools during the Seventh Annual Statewide Hawaii School Learning Garden Symposium.
“The movement is growing and deepening,” said Nancy Redfeather, director of The Kohala Center’s Hawaii Island School Garden Network, which spearheaded the event. “My greatest hope is that someday schools will all have a school garden/classroom kitchen, a trained garden educator and a fully integrated curriculum.”
This year’s theme, “Awakening the Senses for Deeper Learning,” focused on topics such as school learning gardens and sustainability education. “We wanted to highlight the incredible work going on in schools all over Hawaii Island by passionate teachers wanting to reconnect our children with the source of their true health, the world of nature, and engage the whole child in their learning,” Redfeather said.
In the morning keynote address, Dr. Carla Hannaford, an award-winning author, biologist and educator, stressed the importance of using teaching techniques that connect the head, heart and hands for students. “Children need to move and have sensory experiences to learn … they need to be doing purposeful work,” she said. “Children mirror us. They don’t do as we say, but as we do,” she added.
The symposium included 10 breakout sessions throughout the day. In one morning session, Manuel Judulang, agriculture teacher from Honokaa High School, demonstrated how to grow plants using cuttings, followed by a tour of HPA’s garden, led by Dr. Ming Wei Koh and recent HPA graduate Josh Ching.
Jennifer Ryan, school health coordinator from the Hawaii Department of Health, delivered the afternoon keynote address. Ryan shared useful ways to connect schools, wellness and policies such as joining wellness committees, incorporating garden produce into classroom lessons, using garden-based recipes that are healthy and easy, incorporating physical education and activity into the garden, and inviting non-traditional partners to learn about the garden.
When asked why she decided to attend the event this year, garden teacher Kalu Oyama from Naalehu Elementary School said, “I wanted to be with like-minded people who care about our food system, as well as the keiki.”
In an afternoon session, math teacher Mary Lynn Garner talked about the value of creating a wellness program this past school year at Konawaena High School with the help of a wellness committee supported by teachers, administrators and community members, as well as the reward of supporting a high school student in her senior project creating a salad bar in the cafeteria using produce planted earlier this year in the school garden.
The symposium ended with a graduation ceremony for the second cohort of “Ku ‘Aina Pa,” a class of island teachers which recently completed an extensive 12-month school garden training course. Ku ‘Aina Pa (“standing firmly in knowledge upon the land) is a school garden teacher training program of The Kohala Center created under a U.S. Department of Agriculture “Ag in the Classroom” grant and funded this year by the WHH Foundation.
Reflecting on the day’s activities, graduate student Kimberly Greeson from Captain Cook commented, “I learned that Hawaii is rich with passionate educators and community members who want to support the school garden movement.”
Symposium partners included The Kohala Center, Kokua Hawai‘i Foundation, Mala‘ai: The Culinary Garden of Waimea Middle School, Slow Food Hawaii, Hawaii Farm to School and School Garden Hui, Hauoli Mau Loa Foundation, Ulupono Initiative, FoodCorps Hawaii, Maui School Garden Network, MA‘O Organic Farms, Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, and ‘Ai Pono. Kokua Hawaii Foundation provided 25 $200 travel scholarships for off-island teachers.