School Name: James Kennedy Elementary School
School District: SD#35 Langley
Inquiry Team Members: Melanie Dewitt: firstname.lastname@example.org, Lisa Methven: email@example.com, Natalie Wise: firstname.lastname@example.org, Sarah Allin: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Applied Design, skills & Technology
Focus Addressed: Community-based learning, Differentiated instruction, Growth mindset, Inclusion and inclusive instructional strategies, Land, Nature or Place-based learning, Self-regulation, Social and emotional learning, STEM / STEAM, Universal design for learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? How can a school garden facilitate a richer form of inclusion and hands-on learning with a group of students with special needs and our school community?
Scanning: In the scanning phase, we focused on a specific group of students with special needs. We met with this group of students once a week during term 1 and 2. This targeted JK Kids Company is focused on how we, as a community, can explore and inquire in our community and the environment around us. Every year the children are thrilled about growing food in our school garden. They enjoy cooking and making things for themselves and others. I noticed throughout the year a development of a thoughtful and reflective spirit for all the children, despite the challenges. Many of the students who have sensory aversions to certain foods, were taking risks and eating new food together. In previous years we have had our Occupational Therapist come in and do a group activity with some of the children, to support them in this need. It was evident that through problem solving and critical thinking, they sparked each other’s curiosities and built community in the process. The Principles of Learning continue to be integrated into our inquiry. There are two First Nations children within our group, and times when our Aboriginal Worker has joined us during our gatherings. Through our two terms, I was aware of and tried to embed Aboriginal principles into our program so the learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential and relational.
Focus: Even though this was a unique year for us, we made time to focus on allowing the students to explore their curiosities. We believe that throughout this, we actually came out of the experience with more questions like: How can we embed the First Nations Principles of Learning into our program; How can we collaboratively, all our children, innovate to solve problems (i.e. accessibility issues, etc); How can a child’s voice about shaping their learning promote their interest and intrigue their learning; How can we provide a richer sense of inclusion during Term 3 where learning is remote?
Hunch: Throughout the school year, which was incredibly unforgettable, we were on a journey of collaboration, inclusion and inquiry. We tried to step into our hunches such as: How do we embed problem solving and critical thinking skills into our gardening and cooking? This whole concept of “from garden to table” is such a beautiful opportunity to share with our vulnerable students, and shows them that there is a process in getting our food to our tables. We wanted to allow these vulnerable students to flourish within a richer sense of community. Together we believe that when educators see the long-term benefits of providing children platforms for collaborative innovation, there will be an opportunity for others in our community to celebrate and also explore their own creativity.
New Professional Learning: This year has been one that I will never forget. It was wonderful to be able to invest in the garden at the beginning of the school year, and since we came back in June, harvest the potatoes we grew in the fall. As well, as a school we were able to get soil and replenish our gardens. They are looking beautiful. This year there was a lot of exploration on how do we teach life skills to vulnerable students, especially in the season of Covid-19. In term 3 especially, I tried to focus on taking time to listen to others. I realized that we needed to provide a place for these vulnerable pupils, where we could connect them to the land and to themselves. Various resources that were helpful to us in various ways, were the Healthy Schools website and some BC ‘gardening’ teachers that have posted information on various social media accounts. In June, there were lots of collaborative opportunities for my colleagues to engage with the garden, especially as it was encouraged that we do more outside time. As well, our community reaped the harvest of our potatoes — I’m sure lots of JKE dining room tables had potatoes on them in June!
Taking Action: A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust — Gertrude Jekyll (2011). We grew a lot this year. Things changed in term 3, and so specific goals around our garden changed. In the end, we were able to prepare our garden for the fall. We are hoping that more pumpkins, sunflowers, squash and flowers will bloom throughout the summer. Overall, this whole year was a powerful learning experience. Usually we have time to ask students on how they would like to shape the garden for the future, throughout the whole year. Even though there were times where trying to implement ‘everything’ made it very difficult. We have dreams for the future to rebuild our garden. There are lots of collapsing plots which have become ‘run-down’. Our dream is to build a bigger and better school garden in the future.
Checking: Have we done enough under our circumstances? I realized that throughout this unique year, the most valuable reflection I have had on our experience is connection with our vulnerable students. Our vulnerable children struggle with connection and many of them come from homes that are disconnected. Throughout the progress of the four questions, the journey was monitored through their growth in conversation and connection.
I saw connection definitely improve, and they felt connected! In this Covid-19 season espeically, it was important to connect with our students in whichever ways we could. I believe things grew in unique ways, maybe not the ways that I thought it would… but beautiful things grew!
Reflections/Advice: Wow! What a year! We learned that even when things don’t go as planned, there is still connection through inclusion and innovation. When we connect with our students and allow them to take on leadership opportunities, it can strengthen us all together. In the future, I would like to explore how we can integrate more opportunities to explore nature and build our garden. Even with social distancing and spraying down our equipment, it is important to remember our students are at the heart of our program. Our advice to other schools is that allowing students to enjoy the great outdoors and get their hands dirty!