Linking school instruction to the real world
If you were asked what percentage of the word's population was involved in agriculture 500 years ago, would you know the answer? For me, those kinds of facts are harder to hold onto than a greased pig. Ask anyone to recall their grade-school lessons and I bet you'll find that retention rates are remarkably low.
But for the 120 students enrolled in Keri Mustoe's Institutional Technology classes at Cortez Middle School, it'll be a lasting fact that 500 years ago it took 80 percent of people on this planet to supply the population's food needs. And they might even understand why the inversion of that statistic today has a profound impact on everything from agriculture, to science and technology, to the modern social order. The labor-cost of food production became a personal lesson for students in Ms. Mustoe's class last week. With cheers and laughter, the students saw how much work goes into planting seeds by hand. First one, then three, then five, then eight of their peers struggled to keep up with the slow forward pace of a simple, non-motorized seeding machine.
That is the power of experiential education, and that is the key behind the garden- and food-based lessons designed by the Montezuma School to Farm Project. The best teachers we work with understand that information is retained best when it is relevant in students' lives. All those small, particulate facts need to be drawn together, given an emotional linkage and reinforced by an understanding that comes through lived-experience. That's what hands-on, results-based teaching does.
Food-, nutrition- and garden-based lessons work so well because diet is one of the most universally relatable subjects. What else does the majority of humans do so routinely or with such relish as eat? An example of how food helps students learn and encourages success comes from Megan Tallmadge, the Dolores School Garden coordinator. She teaches fourth-graders how to read charts, do the math to come up with planting and spacing maps, and then plant the seeds accordingly. For the students, the lesson doesn't end when the seeds are in the ground. It continues for months while they watch their work germinate, photosynthesize, grow and eventually be ready for a feast.
A deeper knowledge of what students are eating and how that food gets to their mouths will ultimately lead to not only smarter students but also healthier humans. Food consumption is irrevocably related to bodily health. Food and plant cultivation on a personal level nourishes both the body and the mind. And consciousness of the ecological cycles that makes life possible gives students a greater appreciation for the conservation of important natural resources like water and soil. On top of that, we are making sure that all our lessons include necessary core skills such as math, science, social studies, art and reading/listening comprehension, according to the needs of our partnering teachers.
It's about creating school environments where students understand not only what they are being taught, but also why they are learning it. To help that, MSTFP gives students the opportunity to apply their learning to real life, fruitful situations. The data is slowly being gathered nationwide about why this kind of experience is so integral to successful schooling. For us, we know something is working because year after year, teachers and students continue to get excited about coming to garden class.
This week's garden tip comes from folks at the Mount Lookout Grange:
"Winter is coming and try as we might, it is nearly impossible to get beans to grow under 2 feet of snow. That's why it is a great time to start preserving food! Things like canning, fermentation and dehydrating are making a comeback and it's easier than ever to put up your own food. Mount Lookout Grange will be offering ongoing preservation classes throughout the fall. If you can't make it to one of our monthly meetings, email the same fellow who's writing this article for details."
The news from MSTFP is that garden classes are starting in full swing starting after Labor Day.
If you or someone you know might be interested in volunteering in Dolores, Mancos or Cortez, there is always a place for some helping hands! Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, Colorado Proud Day is Sept. 18, and all over the county, kids will be munching on some Colorado-grown vittles during lunch. We'll be there handing out samples and seeing the looks of surprise on your kids faces as they realize they actually like brussels sprouts - hopefully.
Harrison Topp is an Americorps-VISTA worker at the Montezuma School to Farm Project.