Students in a horticulture course this semester prepared for a spring break trip to Belize -- not to frolic at the beach but to show how school gardens can enrich curricula and serve as a foundation for community food-based and environmental education programs.
As part of the course Experiential Garden-Based Learning in Belize (Hort. 4940), nine Cornell undergraduates, three Cornell Cooperative Extension educators and a team of three garden-based learning educators went to the Toledo district in southern Belize to focus on school gardens. The group worked with the U.S. nonprofit organization Plenty Belize, which had created school gardens in 32 of the region's 55 schools.
The Cornell students conducted a teacher training and created two school gardens. To link the gardens to school curricula and community programs, they also led numerous nutrition, market, composting and basic garden-based activities for some 140 children and their teachers in two Mayan communities, said Marcia Eames-Sheavly, course instructor and youth program leader of the Cornell Garden-Based Learning Institute.
"I was impressed with the cohesion, collaboration and leadership demonstrated by our Cornell students," said Eames-Sheavly. "Numerous people in the villages commented on their collective hard work and positive demeanor. They each went well beyond their own expectations for themselves, served as skilled gardeners and grew confident in their ability to lead garden-based learning activities with children."
The students will now document their activities and what they learned about organic gardening in a tropical context, sketch out the best gardens, conduct a case study and develop materials for garden-based learning activities for children and youth in New York state and Belize.
"We, as students, make our way through college hoping to find direction toward a suitable and desirable career, [which can be] difficult from hours of lectures alone," said Neele Reimann-Philipp '09. "It is the hands-on, practical experience that, I feel, can teach us these things in a more applicable way." The course, she said, is an example of "one of the most valuable ways to connect what I've learned as a student with what may someday become my career."
For Tyler Morgan '11, a landscape architecture major, "The highlight of the trip was working alongside the children, teachers and parents of the Santa Elena village to create their school garden. And protecting our shelter by killing an intruding scorpion with my machete."
The trip was made possible, in part, through funding from a Faculty Fellows in Service grant from Cornell's Public Service Center and the coordination efforts of extension aide Christine Hadekel.