Living Classroom Cultivates Gardens & Minds

Posted on May 18, 2013 by  
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Each Los Altos School District campus boasts an edible and native habitat garden tucked into its playground spaces for the Living Classroom Program, which features hands-on science, math and social studies lessons for students in grades K-8.

Curtis Schneider, seventh-grade science teacher at Egan Junior High, said programs like the Living Classroom are especially important in today’s technology-driven world.

“(Students) need balance and also need to base their learning on real-world living things – they need to have connections to nature and understand how amazingly connected we all are to the natural world which sustains all life on the planet,” he said.

Schneider and colleague Julia McFarland collaborated with the Living Classroom staff in the design, use and maintenance of Egan’s garden. In addition to teaching Living Classroom lessons, Schneider and McFarland direct the after-school Garden Club, which oversees upkeep, including care of the native habitat garden and planting, harvesting and eating the produce they grow. Students make the compost and grow seedlings in a greenhouse as well.

Volunteers teach Living Classroom lessons and periodically help maintain the gardens. Local donors fund the program, under the umbrella of the Los Altos Community Foundation.

Mike Sanderson, Living Classroom Program coordinator for the Los Altos School District, said the program – scheduled to present a record-breaking 672 lessons this year – includes 35 volunteer docents, each offering a unique perspective and background. “The community support for Living Classroom continues to astound me,” he said.

Kim Bain’s second-graders at Springer School have received Living Classroom lessons for the past four years.

“My students absolutely love Living Classroom lessons,” she said. “They remember every lesson because they are experiential and relevant to them and they can learn in a beautiful outdoor garden setting.”

Bain said students learn the scientific method by conducting experiments.

“They understand why plants are so crucial to our lives, what a plant life cycle looks like, where food comes from, what decomposition is and looks like, and even why coordinate grids are important in everyday life,” she said. “The lessons are a highlight of the school year for them.”

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