Educational Studies (General Education)
School of Education
academics, environment, health, improvement inquiry, PreK-12, school gardens
When children are engaged in school gardens, they aren’t just digging in the dirt. School gardens have been shown to help improve student health by impacting food preferences and physical activity; to enhance learning in many subject areas; to encourage critical thinking skills by utilizing inquiry-based learning; and to engender a positive association with nature. Children from disadvantaged environments disproportionately may miss out on each of these important experiences. School gardens can serve as venues to enhance social justice by helping marginalized students access these advantageous experiences they otherwise might not have. Given the evidence that school gardens improve the educational experiences of students, this study explored how they can expand across varied schools and classes so that more students can enjoy their benefits. The research question posed was: What are the opportunities for and barriers to the expansion of the school garden and cooking program of Grow Pittsburgh, called Edible Schoolyard Pittsburgh (ESY)?
As an evaluator, I worked collaboratively with a wide range of stakeholders, convening focus groups and discussions with staff, parents and guardians, classroom teachers, and principals. Incorporating feedback from stakeholders, and using a mixed methods design, I developed four instruments to investigate the research question: a survey of parents and guardians, student interviews, principal interviews, and a principal survey. In addition, an extant student survey concerning willingness to taste and try a new vegetable was used.
An analysis of seven Likert scale and two yes-no questions found no significant differences between the parent and guardian responses of two schools surveyed, suggesting the program was implemented equally reliably in both schools. The Parent/Guardian Survey enjoyed a strong return rate of 65.5%. Comprised of two open-ended questions, it generated 768 individual comments, which were transcribed and grouped thematically.
The general findings suggest areas of positive impacts in students’ willingness to try fruits and vegetables, students’ comfort in nature, and parents’ and guardians’ connection to their child’s school. These observations merit further study. Barriers as identified by principals, teachers, and parents and guardians included limited instructional time, limited number of grades served, and limited curricula connection to subjects other than science. Opportunities which emerged from the data included overall robust stakeholder commitment, capacity, and confidence (3Cs), including principals choosing to pay for the program from their own budgets, parents and guardians showing strong confidence, and, in some schools, parent-teacher groups raising half the cost of the program.
Recommendations of the study for successful scaling include implementing an intentional Improvement Inquiry and measuring and tracking of stakeholder 3Cs. Researchers and practitioners should continue to evaluate impacts of school gardens on students in academics, ecoliteracy, and health.
Sprague, P. (2016). Instructional School Gardens: Opportunities for and Barriers to Scaling (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://ddc.duq.edu/etd/30