PCVs Susan Trainor and Emily Schauer instigated a program for school gardening in the primary schools of the city of Kaffrine. Susan and Emily felt that a different, more dynamic style of learning would benefit primary school students greatly, and felt that a school garden would prove to be an excellent teaching tool to this end. A garden can also provide vegetables for the school canteen, generate money, and beautify the school property.
The program began in March 2011 with four (4) schools, and was increased in October 2011 to seven (7) schools. They underwent several trainings which took two teachers and one administrator from each participating school; they were trained them in basic gardening techniques and how to use the garden as a teaching tool. The PCVs then followed up regularly (weekly or bi-weekly) with visits to each school to give lessons to students, provide advice in the garden, and to check up on the general progress of the gardens.
Susan and Emily both live in the city of Kaffrine, a newly-formed regional capital. There are eleven (11) primary schools, seven of which meet the qualifications for installing a school garden – i.e. a wall around the school and a water spigot. In 2009 and 2010 Susan Trainor and another PCV had experimented with gardening in one school, and were met with some success. Emily Schauer replaced the other volunteer and, because the trial run had gone well, the PCVs decided to try expanding into other schools.
The aim of the gardens is not to achieve high levels of productivity, or to act as a money-generating enterprise for schools, but to provide a real context for students to apply the theories they learn in class to real life.
The PCVs made initial approaches to several school directors around town, and decided on the Ecoles 5,6,7 and Franco-Arab to begin the program. Each of these schools’ directors showed strong interest in starting a garden, met the physical requirements, and had at least one teacher interested in and motivated to, lead their class in a gardening section.
Upon identifying interested schools, the PCVs went to the regional academic inspector’s office to seek his approval, both for the program in general and for the two-day training. After receiving his official blessing, a training was planned for March, 2011, that would last two days; the first approaching best gardening techniques, the second dealing with properly using the gardens as a teaching tool. At the end of the training, participating teachers were given enough seeds to start a small dry-season garden to get them through the school year. Another similar training was held for teachers from three new schools in early November 2011 and January 2012 (the two-day trainings were split for the second round), generally following the same format as the first.
PCVs sought funding for both trainings, the first from the SPA grant; the second from the Food Security Grant. This funding covered only the costs of training (lunch, notebooks, pens, bread, coffee, and seeds). The participating schools contributed the space where the trainings took place. No further funding was sought for the school gardens, as teachers were asked to have students bring tools from home; schools were expected to provide fencing.
Two reunion-like meetings were also funded with these grants. The meetings were intended to follow up on the progress of each school; encourage teachers to share their experiences and share techniques that worked for them, as well as exchange contact information; and remind teachers after the summer break the key principles of gardening successfully.
Between these trainings and meetings, the PCVs made regular visits to schools, often doing specifically planned lessons that build on each other to both teach students and improve the garden. Topics covered include: the parts of a plant; which parts of plants humans eat; nutrition; costs and basic business; creating tree nurseries; methods of growing plants; the uses of trees; basic math; and more. The benefit of these lessons was twofold. First, students were exposed to a new, dynamic teaching style that encouraged movement, engagement of students, and getting out of the classroom. Second, teachers saw a demonstration of the way the garden was intended to be taught, combining
A total of 14 teachers and seven administrators were trained between the two separate training section. At each school, one class participates full-time, with sometimes contributions from other classes. If each full-time class contains an average of 40 students, then the school gardening program of Kaffrine has affected at least 280 students in Kaffrine. It is impossible to measure exactly how much information was absorbed and will be used in the future, however we frequently do reviews of topics previously discussed and are generally pleased with how well students remember key lessons. The future potential is great, as students already involved may share their newly gained knowledge with others, and teachers will continue the gardens in coming years, bringing waves upon waves of new inductees into the school of gardening.
The most challenging aspect of this project was teachers either losing interest or becoming discouraged, usually because the gardens are not fantastically productive at the beginning. Either fences aren’t properly placed and animals get in; children are too aggressive with their care of the garden, sometimes actively pulling out plants; instructions are not followed; or the garden is relatively unproductive for reasons beyond control. The teacher is the one who really drives the garden, instigates work and encourages the students, so if s/he disengages from the project, the students are quick to follow.
The PCVs also learned that it can be challenging to balance so many schools at once. There is a large energy requirement on the part of the volunteers, in continually training teachers, reminding them what to do, doing lessons, and staying positive for the teachers.
Also, the intent of this project was that by the end of a year of involvement with PCVs, the teachers would be able to, with the help of the school gardening manual developed by the PCVs and the practice they’d had, make decisions and take care of the garden with relatively little intervention. It has been discovered, however, that the teachers wait for the PCVs to show up and tell them what to do or do a lesson for them, rather than taking their own initiative. This is not universally true, however is most common.
With the close of the 2011/2012 school year, gardens will likely be left untended for vacation. Some teachers, as happened last year, will plant a few rainy-season vegetables that require little care, and will start the year with a harvest, but most will likely not do this. For the next school year, the PCVs taking over the project should consider limiting its scope and only working with those schools that showed the most motivation, perseverance, and dedication. They should also encourage more independence on the part of the schools, so that they may get practice in going through the decision-making process and will, ultimately, not need volunteer intervention. PCVs may also consider looking at villages and towns outside of Kaffrine who could benefit from a school garden.