R.M. Miano Elementary

RM Miano ElementaryIf you are looking for an example of a successful and sustainable school garden program, 2019 Budding Botanist winner R.M Miano Elementary School in Los Banos, California is a great place to start.

“Seventeen years ago, we began with a simple idea,” shares teacher and garden program coordinator Sergio de Alba. “We wanted to beautify the empty dirt plots on our campus and provide an avenue to inquiry-based lessons about the environment.” With the goal of engaging students, their first garden space was dedicated as The Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Learning Garden. It was a fruit and vegetable garden designed by students for students. As they planned the garden program, a process that took over 6 months, educators were also tasked by the administration to solidly demonstrate how it would be used as an educational tool to improve instruction. “We could only gain approval for the garden by presenting lessons that incorporated at least two core subjects in each lesson.” What was the result of laying this solid foundation? A school garden program that is well integrated into the culture of the school, garden spaces that are still expanding and thriving for almost two decades, and enthusiastic teachers, students and families who are reaping the benefits of garden-based education.

Sergio explains that the Miano school garden program is designed to “create something that is not only beautiful, but functional for our students, something that could be used to better their education and provide an avenue to improve environmental education, our test scores, and the nutrition of our students.”

Over the years he has witnessed the power of a garden program and the amazing impact it can have on a school. “The level of engagement created with a garden is awe-inspiring. Students that struggle to listen in a traditional classroom become excited to learn. The gardens have become engaging opportunities that change students outlook in life as well as what they feel their future holds. Our students are no longer just the children of farm workers (as I also once felt to be) but the stewards of the land that they work and the future scientists that will ensure that our environment and land is respected. All 831 participating students learn not only about our environment, mandated curriculum, nutrition, and agriculture, but also about themselves and the importance of self-worth. Our gardens are not just gardens. Our gardens are an avenue to achieving lofty dreams while still maintaining our roots and love for the land and what it provides. I have taught in this program for 17 years and the brilliant ideas that some of these children have developed provides confidence that they will one day change the world.”

Starting with just one garden, the school’s campus now holds more than 14 different garden spaces along with a variety of shade trees. With the funding from the Klorane Botanical Foundation sponsored Budding Botanist Grant, the students added an innovative Carnivorous Bog Barden which will provide a multitude of new educational opportunities not previously available. This new garden joins:

The original garden space, the Cesar E. Chavez Memorial Learning Garden which is used to grow common and rare varieties of fruits and vegetables.

An Oasis Garden which holds plants important to ancient Egypt and serves as an excavation site for sixth graders as they become archeologists while learning about the plants used in the ancient world.

The Amelia Sanchez Pumpkin Patch which is used to teach primary students about a plant’s life cycle.

The Rock & Butterfly Garden which teaches about the connection plants and animals have in nature as well as providing an impressive rock collection for rock studies.

The Rose-Rose Garden, filled with heirloom roses, which is used to demonstrate plant modifications made over time as well techniques used to clone plants. Each November sixth graders take cuttings from this garden to grow a rose for their mother to give on Mother’s Day.

The Agave, Fern, and Tropical Gardens which offer examples of global ecosystems.

The Japanese Garden which is used to teach about cultural connections.

The Veterans Memorial Stage, which serves as a space to pay respect for our heroes.

The Jurassic Park Garden, which teaches our students about plants that were in existence during prehistoric times.

The Monocot Lake Garden which allows us to teach about plants that are classified by certain characteristics.

Along with these themed gardens, the school has created an extensive collection of lessons that incorporate language arts, math, science, social studies, nutrition and local history.

Sustaining an active school garden program for 17 years is a remarkable feat. Sergio shared the following words of wisdom with us:

“Our key to success is inclusion. This is not one person’s program. This program belongs to all our students, their parents, the teachers, and the community. When all stakeholders have personal buy-in you can achieve a level of support that does not allow for a program to fail. When we started our garden program two other schools in our district also built gardens. Unfortunately, those programs were both gone within two years. That is the sad truth about school garden programs. It is difficult to continue without the support of others. This philosophy has not only sustained our program but has allowed it to continue to grow and flourish. We have a committee of teachers that are always looking for new grants and funding sources. We are fortunate to have a strong support network as well as parental and community support. Our goal is to have a learning garden in every open location not being used on our campus. By our calculations we can still fit in eight gardens. Our hope is to never stop introducing new ideas and new experiences for our students. We see our program continuing to grow for many more years to come.”

To learn more about the gardens at Miano Elementary and hear from Sergio and some of the student gardeners, check out the video on the Klorane Botanical Foundation’s Budding Botanist website. Sergio has also posted some videos of live lesson plans to inspire educators at:

Citrus Lesson

Cacao Lesson

Plant Reproduction Lesson

Butterfly Unit Lesson