Happy February!  This month we are kicking off “The Year of the Green School” celebration.  There are so many great things teachers and schools are doing to create a healthier community that we want to give them the recognition they deserve.  Be on the look-out for new featured schools every Friday.  We hope these schools serve to inspire more & more schools to see what GREEN can do for their students.

This week we shine a very bright spotlight on Annie Clark.  She is the Executive Director of Hope Street Garden and Learning Lab (York, PA) and Director of Community Outreach for Lincoln Charter School (York, PA).  Check out this stellar model Green School!

Who’s idea was it to start a school garden? What was the inspiration behind starting this project?

I always say that the garden chose me as a project instead of me choosing it. In addition, I tell volunteers that God gives you peace before he gives you purpose. In the year 2011, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I travelled to California while she received treatment in LA. I was fascinated by the number of schools that had outdoor learning labs. When I came back to Pennsylvania, I wanted to create my own outdoor learning lab. However, I had no place to build a [one]. Approximately a year later, representatives from the Re-development Authority better-known as the RDA came to see me and asked if Lincoln Charter School would consider building a garden. I believed that the project was too large for just one elementary school; Lincoln Charter School, Logos Academy, York City School District and York County School of technology began a partnership to Build Hope Street Garden & Learning Lab. All of the schools were interested because as a community your work is trying to fight hunger. 

What is goal for having a school garden?

Hope Street Garden & Learning Lab’s mission is to eliminate hunger and to make a healthier place for the children.

Do you guys incorporate state/national learning standards into these gardens or are they “just something extra”? If you do incorporate, how do you go about tying the two together?

Hope Street Garden & Learning Lab encourages the partnering schools to use their own curriculum and the state standards that apply to science and health. In addition, Hope Street Garden & Learning Lab purchased the 4H curriculum and allows any of the partnering schools to use that curriculum as needed.

What have been some challenges you’ve face in this project and what have you done to overcome them? Likewise, what have some of the rewards been, if any, you’ve experienced?

The challenges with building a garden for school or community are great. The largest concern about building a garden for school is do they have a summer program that can sustain the garden over the summer months. The next concern is what are you going to do with the food that is grown there. Who will coordinate the volunteers and what projects while they work on. Who is ultimately responsible for the garden.

The rewards have been just as great as the challenges. Lincoln charter school has had 100% of the students improve in science every year for the last four years.

What advice would you give to schools who are thinking about starting a garden, as well?

My advice to other schools is the same advice that I had received– just put things in the ground and see what happens. The other advice that I would give is choose your “Rockstar Five.”  That is what I call the people that will help you get any project off the ground. Never be afraid to start a project without money; donations will come. 

I encourage all schools to look at educating in new ways. Our school looked to taking on the Maslow’s Higher Order of Needs and getting anything that stops learning out-of-the-way.  If it was food, they provided more food.  If they needed clothes, we provided more clothes.  If they needed to exercise, we created events to exercise. I believe it all of our schools should start educating for well[ness], not agitating for poverty. At Lincoln Charter School, we try to educate the entire child socially, behaviorally, and academically. Our education system needs to change to match the needs of our economy.