School Gardens

Gardening Lessons Begin Early

Naco’s youngest residents get their first taste of NWI gardening through the
school gardens at Anita Cordoba Kindergarten and Preschool, Gabriel Villa Elementary
School and CYCETE HS High School. They literally eat up their lessons.

Current Education

This year, another 100 schoolchildren will participate in NWI’s School Garden Program. At the high school level, students hope to learn hydroponic gardening, and all students may now complete their required Community Service Hours in the San Jose Organic Community Garden. 

Schoolteachers asked Naco Wellness to build Harvest for Health School Gardens at the Anita Cordova Kindergarten and Gabriel Villa Elementary schools and to help them integrate the school gardens into the curricula. They knew great results and more memorable lessons about health, nutrition, and even personal hygiene would come from this real-life, hands-on learning tool.

When parents learned about it, they volunteered to build the plant beds and compost areas. That’s how much they wanted their children to learn more about lifelong healthy lifestyles. 

The School Gardens Impact

Some 900 students have received in-school gardening lessons since 2012. A significant part of the curriculum in the first and sixth grades is devoted to health, wellness, nutrition, and gardening topics.

Students measure the distance between crops as part of their math classes, improve their physical fitness by gardening, and write short essays in language arts classes about their experiences. They learn the science of life cycles as they plant their first seeds in egg carton gardens in class. When they plant their thousands of seedlings outside, they study pollination. As the plants mature, they eat the produce they have raised as school snacks and take home recipes and surplus veggies for their parents to try as part of nutrition lessons. 

“The children are excited about every school lesson, but especially about harvesting. They are very excited to do that. All their faces light up,”

– NWI Promotora Alma Amaya.

Teachers report that students are more alert and perform better in class because of the garden work, healthy snacks, and more nutritious home meals. This year, another 100 schoolchildren will participate in the program. At the high school level, students hope to try their hand at hydroponic gardening. 

They will all benefit from a new Garden Teaching Curriculum recently developed by Arizona State University’s GlobalResolve Program and Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation. In spring 2020, university educators and students were set to visit Naco when the Covid Pandemic closed schools on both sides of the border. Ana Orrantia Murphy, ASU Clinical Assistant Professor of Nursing for Barrett, The Honors College and head of its GlobalResolve Program’s Health Team, contacted NWI Garden Director Norma Bernabe to ask, “What can we still do?” 

Bernabe thought a long time before answering with a four-page letter of curriculum needs. Over the next 18 months, international consultations flowed back and forth and lesson ideas and worksheets were tested by Naco students. The result was a 200-page manual of materials on everything from earthworms to planting, harvest, composting, climate, and even a recycling lesson. Naco teachers get copies. Bernabe has used it in workshops for Mexican school superintendents interested in duplicating Naco’s gardening program. The ASU team is currently working to create a student workbook to accompany the lessons. 

“The manual is so wonderful. It’s like having a university at your fingertips. Everything is in this book,” Bernabe said. “Kids will stop me on the street to ask questions about gardening, and I always have the answer in this book.”

School gardens
School Gardens

How Can You Help?

The School Gardens Program will continue to grow in Naco. Additional teaching manuals and many more of the new activity books need to be printed; $2,000 is needed to build a small greenhouse at the high school to shelter the hydroponic garden.  Can you help with the cost?