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The Garden Classroom: Chalk Talk to Ground Work

Written by Helen Gemma Vallejos 

"Experience is the best teacher." 

A line mostly uttered by people emphasizing the value of learning beyond the confines of the wall and the bounds of a book. 

Recent advancements in society, technology in particular, has altered the paradigm of education in so many ways. As much as experiential learning is still a cornerstone of education, its application has taken a myriad of forms. Mostly, by technology integration – virtual reality, software, animations, applications, cut-outs, and projections, to name a few. 

With education moving towards this technological kind of approach, students have grown further away from the ground. However, if circumstances of public schools are assessed, they can maximize their environment to give students a more grounded experiential learning. 

This is the inspiration of The Garden Classroom approach in enhancing the appreciation of agriculture in the basic education system. In 2016, AGREA moved the program from the drawing board to the ground. 

"The first year of The Garden Classroom was a mix of emotions. There were highs and there were lows. Each telling a story about how the program becomes even more significant."

Among the schools that proved itself to be challenging was Gaspar Elementary School. As part of the Tres Reyes Group of Islands, Gaspar is the only inhabited island with less than a hundred households cradled in its white sand beach coast. With no electricity and source of potable water, the community faces a big dilemma. Even the school was not spared from the prevailing social problems of experiencing theft - from garden produce to vanishing school fences.

Through The Garden Classroom, Gaspar Elementary School was able to restructure their school garden and improve its vegetable production. The Garden Classroom program has encouraged Gaspar Elementary School to ensure their garden is protected. As a result for the academic year 2016-2017 there has been zero incidents of theft from their garden produce..

The entry of the program to the Gaspar community has also allowed AGREA to tap the Municipal Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Barangay Official. Gaspar Elementary School will now be opening its grounds to families who want to build their own food garden through the help of DSWD – Gasan. This move has opened new solutions to the food security and poverty problem of the community.

Another equally inspiring story is that of Hinadharan Elementary School. Situated in the mountains, and surrounded by coconut trees that casts mesmerizing shadows, the school is set to reach new heights in providing assistance to the families of its students.

The school has transformed its garden based on the garden development plan designed for them, resolving issues on plot soil erosion. With grit and enthusiasm, the school succeeded in producing vegetables for their feeding program. More than that, they were able to allow some students to bring home garden produce for their families’ consumptions. They have also opened their garden produce to families around the community who may prefer buy vegetables rather than the traditional canned goods from the sari-sari stores. With so much pride, the teacher in-charge also said that they have started producing and sharing seeds, seedlings and cuttings to share with the barangay.

The Garden Classroom inspired not only the schools that are part of the program, but also schools who wish to improve their own school gardens. .

"The Garden Classroom inspired not only the schools that are part of the program, but also schools who wish to improve their own school gardens."

Among them is Bayakbakin Elementary School. The teacher in-charge of Bayakbakin Elementary School, on her own, enrolled in one of the AGREA Backyard Gardening Classes and applied her learning in transforming their school garden. With the success of their garden, the school now plans to help the barangay to have a community garden with the help of AGREA.

The Garden Classroom has also had its own share of not so sunny stories. When Typhoon Nina hit the Island Province of Marinduque, the school gardens were not spared from its rage. Despite the devastation, schools have rebuilt their gardens and saved what they can. Together with AGREA, the schools are set to work on improving their gardens back into shape again this 2017-2018 academic year. 

Helen Gemma Ramos Vallejos is the Director of Social Programs at AGREA. She holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Political Science and Legal Studies from St. Mary's University in Bayombong, Nueva Viscaya. She is a Regional Awardee in the Search for Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines, and a National Finalist of the Gawad Geny Lopez Jr Bayaning Kabataan 2014. 

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