From Rachel Pringle
My co-author, Arden, and I make up the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance, a decidedly small organization that serves as a regional support network for over 70 school gardens and green schoolyards in the City. We connect garden projects around the district to resources such as grants and relevant trainings, and to each other; through listservs, workshops, social events, and a conference, we help school communities share in a collective knowledge that brings them closer to their vision of a greener schoolyard. We also do a lot of troubleshooting with school communities that are struggling to keep their garden projects and programs alive and thriving. A garden is often started by a small group of enthusiastic parents in one big blast of energy. A Saturday workday is called and a garden is carved out of the schoolyard and the project is finished. Done.
The excitement that surrounds a groundbreaking and the initial building of a garden outdoor classroom is contagious. The community comes together around organizing, budgeting, gathering supplies, and putting hammer to nail. Eventually, though, those initial enthusiastic parents move on and the space loses its shine. In our book we mention one of the "tricks of the trade" for easing the pains of this natural flux in interest: never finish.
New interest in the school garden is generated by having a need for the talents that lie within your parent population. New kindergarten parents might harbor within their ranks a landscaper, a grant writer, a carpenter, or a non-working mother who can be a steady volunteer. But there must be a reason for them to share their skills and for them to be involved in a meaningful way. Perhaps the school needs a shade structure, new seating in the garden, finally (!) a garden shed, or money to hire a part-time garden coordinator. Engagement at this level builds a sense of ownership and commitment to the project and creates excitement at the growth taking place.
"Finishing" a school garden can truly spell its end. Looking at your schoolyard with fresh eyes, spurred by a desire to develop the space into a dynamic outdoor classroom, will always reveal numerous reasons for continued involvement. And this process will ensure that the program's energy and relevance will be sustained over time and through changes in the community.
- What improvement projects have you done in your son or daughter's school garden or schoolyard?
- What has been the most useful talent from among your parent population?