Interview with Ms Jade
Thanks for meeting with us, Ms. Jade! You’ve been at Santa Cruz Gardens now for over five years. Tell us a little bit about the program you run up there.
Of course! The Living Classroom is an enrichment program where all students get to use both the indoor science classroom and stunning school garden to explore life sciences through multi-week long investigations. This includes nature journaling and garden skill development. We also eat from the garden along the way!
For our scientific lens, we explore the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) with a deeper dive for upper grades exploring how humans impact Earth’s systems and what we can do at school to address these concerns.
That sounds incredible. Can you give us an example?
Sure, inspired from a National Geographic course I took on the worldwide plastic pollution crisis, upper grade students researched how much plastic trash is in the oceans, what kinds, the trash’s routes to travel there and the complex socio-political and manufacturing variables that inevitably contribute to this global phenomenon.
Students then safely collected on-site trash from our school yard, then coded and analyzed the data using the Marine Debris Tracking App. We wanted to see how much trash we were generating and in what patterns. We learned that the majority of our trash was those tiny plastic corners after you open a package—we call it ‘The Corner Phenomenon!’ We then presented our findings to the lower grades and created site-specific solutions to address how our school can solve this problem. A Green Team was created to pick up trash during recess and now students remind others to pay attention to those unassuming little plastic corners!
Wow, that’s amazing! So, I know a lot of schools have a garden nowadays. What’s unique about The Living Classroom program?
Well, the fact that all classes attend TLC all year long is huge— and that includes transitional kindergarten!
We all engage in scientific practices but we also emphasize cultivating strong personal nature literacy— this emerges by cultivating skills that are hard to come by these days! Such as deep observing, extreme patience and regular collaboration with the natural world. And that deep looking aspect is truly inspiring! We recently had a garden workday and a father was telling me that he thought he was working with carrots in a garden bed. His daughter corrected him that it was in fact California Poppy; she knew it was poppy based on how the leaves’ margins were different along with their distinct bluish tinge. That is an example of the nuanced understanding of plants that comes with hours of working with these plants regularly through the years.
Finally all students get the experience of engaging in the scientific practices but they also learn directly how they affect today’s natural world in the big-picture. In this way, the learning is personal and students have a direct connection to the importance of being an Earth Steward. They learn they matter and their choices matter— a theme that is re-emphasized by their classroom teacher via classroom SAGE projects. The Living Classroom is strong because its vision of cultivating Earth stewardship is supported and reiterated by our SAGE program school-wide.
That all sounds amazing! Can you tell us about your background that led you here?
I attended the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley as a middle schooler and immediately fell in love with playing with worms and the natural world. I studied psychology as an undergraduate and was passionate about school gardens, food justice, urban farming, international permaculture, horticulture and artisanal cooking. I got my Masters in Education from UCSC and taught 5th grade in PVUSD before realizing I truly yearned to be outside again with students, so I returned permanently to the school garden movement. I believe whole heartedly that all children deserve access to rich nature experiences and what better place to do that than in a public school garden? My job truly is my dream, and the deepening of the SAGE program every year really is a vision of what’s possible in public education for our little humans on this planet.
Wow, thanks for your time today Ms. Jade! Those students are lucky to have such an incredible program at Santa Cruz Gardens! We look forward to how this program continues to grow.
Instructional Programs: The Living Classroom
*Weekly visits to The Living Classroom, the onsite 1300 sq. feet garden; twice a week visits for upper grades
*Weekly visits to the indoor science classroom
*Hands-on life sciences investigations and experimentation
*Exploration of human’s impacts on Earth systems
*Upper grade project based learning and site-specific solution implementation
*Weekly circle practice and restorative justice framework
*Weekly tasting of on-site grown fruits, vegetables and herbs
*Garden Nature Journaling and deep observing cultivation
*Garden skill exposure and practice: bed prep, amending, sowing, plating, mulching, harvesting, processing, cover crop use and seed saving
*Fall + Spring student culinary meal creation using site-grown ingredients