Sun04202014

Schools

Living Classroom cultivates gardens and minds


Junior High School Garden Club students enjoy the harvest from the school’s garden. The Living Classroom Program uses gardens to teach hands-on lessons at schools in the Los Altos School District.

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.

The program has scheduled a fundraiser 9 a.m. to noon Sunday at the Living Classroom Neighborhood Community Garden Market at the Hodge Family Chicken Ranch, adjacent to Egan Junior High School at 100 W. Portola Ave. in Los Altos. The event will feature baby chicks, face paintings, worm bins, seeds to take home and plant and more.

Connecting with nature

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.

Sanderson said the Living Classroom Program has benefited from grants from the Los Altos Community Foundation, the Los Altos Educational Foundation, the Morgan Family Foundation, the Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, local PTAs, Symantec Corp. and Whole Foods Market. Volunteer support from local residents and Eagle Scouts and in-kind contributions from garden supply stores “have kept our program running,” he added.

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.”

In addition to its fundraisers, the Living Classroom Program seeks donations from individuals and corporations to maintain a similar level of service next year.

To make a tax-deductible donation to the Living Classroom Program, make checks payable to the Los Altos Community Foundation, write “Living Classroom” on the memo line and send to 183 Hillview Ave., Los Altos 94022.

For more information, call 947-1103 or visit www.living-classroom.org.

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