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2018 Budding Botanist Grant Winner: Academy for Global Citizenship

Academy for Global Citizenship“Our mission is to develop mindful leaders who take action both now and in the future to positively impact their communities and the world beyond,” shares Sustainability Coordinator Marney Coleman. “With food and farming as a central teaching tool, students learn the power of their daily choices to improve their own wellbeing as well as the health of the earth. Students graduate with a strong understanding of natural systems and a responsibility towards their communities and the planet.”

The Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC) is a school with big dreams and goals for its students. A Chicago Public Charter School located on the city’s industrial and underserved Southwest side, AGC serves a diverse, high-needs population of elementary and middle school-aged youth. 

Educators at AGC expect their students to have an enduring understanding of the foundation concepts of sustainability and environmental stewardship by the time they complete 8th grade. They teach students that there are many different species of organisms on the planet and in individual ecosystems, and that this diversity is important and beneficial. They also teach them that sustainability is a social justice issue, and to be a truly sustainable planet, all species must have equal access to resources and bear equal burden to solve environmental challenges. Most importantly, the educators at AGC want students to know that being a responsible global citizen involves taking action to promote sustainability -- both on an individual and global level.

School gardens have always been central to their curricular framework. This year the Academy’s garden program received a boost from a 2018 Budding Botanist Grant. Sponsored by the Klorane Botanical Foundation in partnership with KidsGardening, the Budding Botanist Grant is awarded to school garden programs that are designed to teach respect for the environment and protect nature through the preservation of plant species and biodiversity.  This funding allowed AGC to replace deteriorating raised beds and overall make the garden more accessible for students. 

“Our garden program has evolved over our 10-year span as a school and has developed many innovative elements,” explains Marney.  “Our school garden program is closely tied to our school's focus on holistic wellness and nutrition. Each day we provide our students with scratch-made, 100% organic breakfast and lunch meals. Our students are active in growing and harvesting produce that is then integrated into our school food program.”

“Another innovative aspect of our school garden program is our student-run farmer’s market, which occurs each summer and fall. The farmer’s market allows a number of authentic curricular connections and mastery of garden skills for our students of all ages. Students develop a business plan, set business goals for themselves, learn about social entrepreneurship, investigate marketing and persuasive sales, become knowledgeable in different produce, create value-added products from what is growing in the garden. Our students have also explored the concept of food access by doing an asset walk of our community. By making the connection between lack of availability of fresh food and health, our students proposed creating ‘mobile farmer’s markets’ and were able to bring our organic school garden produce into our community door-to-door.”

There’s an additional exciting benefit of the school garden program. AGC has confirmation that students are transferring their knowledge of stewardship and nutrition from school to home. In a recent survey to AGC parents, 70% of parents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “My child has engaged people in discussions about the environment and sustainability since joining AGC.” In this same survey, parents shared anecdotes of what this home-school connection looks like. In response to the question, “Has your family adopted any new positive habits in regards to the environment and sustainability since joining AGC? If yes, what?” they received the following encouraging anecdotes:

  • “Absolutely. In our house we realize the difference between organic and non-organic. We choose foods that are not full of sugar and try to cut down on our home waste.”
  •  “We have spent 1 year not eating fast food (and plan to keep it up) and we make a concerted effort to eat healthy.”
  • “My child encouraged a wild flower garden to be planted at home this past summer.”
  • “Not only do we recycle but we also have a rain barrel to help with watering grass and flowers in our garden.”

Contributing to the garden’s success, AGC’s program is carefully integrated into core classroom content. Marney shares a few examples of some of their garden-related their lessons:

  • Second-graders participate in a place-based approach to pollinator education. Students are always shocked to hear how less than 0.1% of Illinois’ native prairie remains in our state. This leads students to take action by planting native pollinator plants in our school garden each year and observing which pollinators come to visit them. We searched for monarch eggs last year and were able to keep some in an observation net until they matured into adult butterflies! Students felt proud to take action in conservation of a species experiencing a decline.
  • In the middle school design class, students learn about biomimicry – the process of replicating nature to solve human problems. Students make detailed observations of plants, insects, and animals in the garden and are challenged to design a product that can solve an environmental sustainability problem at school. Students came up with innovative designs that illustrated critical thinking about a number of sustainability problems – all inspired by natural processes in our garden. For example, one student was inspired by the morning glory flower, and designed an innovative light bulb that could open and close – mimicking the morning glory – based on the amount of natural light coming in through the windows.
  • Third-grade classes complete a “Finite Resources” unit, during which students explore how natural resources are used and managed around the world. Students serve as “resource consultants” and work in groups to determine how we are using resources in our garden. This led to a student-initiated inquiry into irrigation systems and how farmers can use processes like drip irrigation to limit their water use. Then, the students helped to construct and test a drip irrigation system in our own garden and compared this to watering with a regular hose.

Through their incredible school garden program, the Academy for Global Citizenship is doing their part to grow the next generation of environmental stewards. We are honored to be able to recognize their amazing efforts through the 2018 Budding Botanist Grant Award.