Advocates of community gardening are hoping a $350,000 grant will make summer squash and heirloom tomatoes as integral to the learning experience for Madison and Dane County students as books in a library.
The Madison Community Foundation has awarded the Madison School District and five other partners the funding to expand outdoor, garden-based education at 15 schools over the next three years. The money will also be used to train teachers in how to integrate school gardens into their lesson plans.
"While they will be gardening, we hope the art teachers will bring their kids out to paint and draw outside; the English teacher can teach kids about Aldo Leopold or John Muir or Thoreau; the science teacher can have kids study soil," said Tom Linfield, vice president of grant making and community initiatives for the Madison Community Foundation.
The foundation and the school district plan to announce the grant Wednesday at Van Hise Elementary.
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Advocates say getting students outdoors as part of their schooling can potentially improve student test scores, enhance engagement and improve behavior, particularly among low-income students.
Most Madison schools already have gardens set up independently by parents and teachers, but not all of them are being used in the curriculum.
"Our goal is to establish a garden at every school and build out that garden so it becomes as much a part of the school as the library is," said Kristen Joiner, executive director of Sustain Dane, one of the coalition partners involved in the project.
The project also seeks to surround school gardens with community garden plots, similar to what Black Hawk Middle School did in spring 2011. The community aspect will help sustain the gardens over the summer when students are on vacation, and also bring neighborhoods and schools together, Linfield said.
Officials haven't determined which schools will get the grants or the amounts. The first grants will be given to Madison schools for creating or expanding school gardens and training teachers to use gardens as a classroom. At least 10 more schools in Madison and Dane County will receive grants in 2014 and 2015, Linfield said.
With additional support from corporate sponsors and volunteers, the coalition is hoping to add more than five school gardens per year, he said.
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