Seeding a gardening program in Toronto schools
A special group of people with knowledge of gardening, eco-spirituality, architecture, planning, education, and curriculum preparation have made an impact on a local school. They call themselves the Eco-Spirituality Consulting Group. Their goal is to foster eco-spirituality in schools through the involvement of faculty and students in the designing, planting and nurturing of an on-site garden.
"A small group consisting of women and men religious and laypersons began meeting in 2008 to develop a collaborative ministry centered around justice, peace and the integrity of creation," said Sr. Margaret Myatt, chair of this group. "An early group member, the late Jim Profit SJ, suggested we centre it around food, involving students in the growing and production process. We expanded our membership to include members with on-site gardening and other relevant skills."
From left to right: A.P.P.L.E. Principal Tracey Parish with early members of the
Eco-Spirituality Consulting Group: Roberto Chiotti, Sr. Evanne Hunter IBVM,
Sr. Margaret Myatt CSJ, Robert Cordi, teacher Michael Modeste and
Fr. Steve Dunn CP. Missing from the picture are Sr. Theresa Rodgers CSJ,
Sr. Frances Brady OLM, and Karen Van Loon.
Group members revealed that the Ministry of Education gave top priority to environmental education, seeing "hands on" programs as ideal for students who had difficulty completing high school requirements. Thirty percent of "at risk" students do not graduate. The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) expressed interest in their project.
In 2010, the A.P.P.L.E. high school (Alternative Positive Peer Learning Environment) was proposed for a first project within the school's science program. A tour of the school lead by the principal revealed a 3rd floor classroom with good lighting and a sink – ideal for the indoor seed development and other environmental activities relating to plant growth.
Intense planning and renovations followed. Once this was completed, the students planted seeds, transferred the seedlings to a school garden plot that had been well prepared with teachers joining in, reaped the harvest and distributed the produce. A curriculum for the program was prepared so that other schools could incorporate it into their science, religion or hospitality departments. The seven students who finished the program obtained a high school credit.
This program, called "Environmental Stewardship and Sustainable Food Systems Course," received an Exemplary Practices Award for 2011-2012. These awards acknowledge innovative projects and programs at TCDSB schools. The program continues to this day.
Meanwhile, the Eco-Spirituality Consulting Group was approached to serve as a catalyst in developing a similar program at St. Patrick's Secondary School where a larger plot of land is available. Their work goes on...
Photo courtesy of TCDSB.