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Showcasing Steven Tanguay and "The Garden Project"

The Garden Project at Troy Howard Middle School was established in the 2001-02 school year as a portion of the district's educational program and community service project," explains Steven Tanguay. "The project has quickly developed into an ever-expanding outdoor learning lab for our social studies, math, science, and language arts curriculums. Connections have been made with preschool, vocational school, and grammar school students through student-led classes and tours."

Click here to see more photos of the Garden Project.

The program is a year-round agriculture process achieved through an organic garden, orchard, and food-producing greenhouse. Tanguay, an economics, history, and agriculture instructor for the Belfast, Maine, school, works with a "garden team" made up of the district's agricultural coordinator, Don White, and part-time environmental science teacher and dairy farmer, Linda Hartkopf. The core of the project is staffed by Tanguay's seventh grade students, teaching in a peer-to-peer situation with students in pre-K-6. The goal is to engage all students in discovery through gardening projects that address learning objectives and produce nutritious food and research for sustainability.

"The project requires the students' participation through planting, harvesting, and seed-saving for future plantings," reports Tanguay. "Students are taught the quality and health benefits of locally produced food. They're taught about security in our food systems, as they learn the concepts of diversity. I want the kids exposed, on a regular basis, to successful small business owners and entrepreneurs -- with the opportunity to write letters, make phone calls, and send e-mails -- and to see how approachable a successful businessperson is."

Every participant involved in the Garden Project has the opportunity to excel - in activities from digging trenches to mixing compost to creating a spreadsheet for tracking germination rates. Students learn that each aspect of the project is as important as another. For example, the seed company can't sell their seeds if the seeds aren't planted at the right depth by other workers.

"We've created a comprehensive agricultural curriculum that integrates middle school academic concepts with real problem solving and hands-on, individual learning," Tanguay told Education World. "The project combines the classroom, agricultural area, and community. All students receive a farmers' market or boot camp training during the first week of school. Those training and assessment sessions consist of 52 learning/testing stations that are used not only to train and evaluate student performance in different market scenarios, but also to gather data about individual student levels in all subject areas."

Students are arranged into three separate divisions of the THMS Garden Company; all apprentice in the garden during the first six weeks of the school year. They record their learning experiences, tasks, and responsibilities in a journal that's used for evaluation.

"Through the student run businesses, there are opportunities to incorporate agricultural concepts into the learning," said Tanguay. "Students work in production, administrative support, marketing, sales, and distribution. Some have designed methods for extracting seeds from a variety of vegetables. Others design packaging and sales materials for the seed company. Students use their math skills to conduct germination tests of seeds."

The Garden Project receives strong support from a group of local farmers and educators, as well as from local, state, and federal organizations in conjunction with 20 commercial organizations that volunteer their expertise, funding, time and support. Students learn about good nutrition and about their community and its long, colorful history. Tanguay noted that the seventh graders also gain a measure of self-reliance and confidence that comes with the "experiential learning" provided by the project.

"Our kids learn that science and math can be hands-on, relevant and exciting," he stated. "Every week, students meet professionals who open their eyes to what today's advanced degrees really can be. With gardening as a model, students see how the high tech world is applied to local situations. We use microscopes to monitor soil ecology; we test and record methods of pest prevention; and we use our computers to communicate that information both in-house and to garden professionals across the United States."

Tanguay feels that the success of the Garden Project is founded in a simple principle: All students want to learn about subjects that fit into their world.

"The natural curiosity of middle school students makes them want to expand their world so fast it can make our heads spin," he observed. "It isn't news that everyone loves to eat. We've found a way to start with a very simple biological drive and use it as a basis for learning about science, math, social studies, history, economics, team building, and good taste. Seventh grade at Troy Howard Middle School is almost the perfect world! Gardening is the vehicle we've chosen to use -- great tasting tomatoes are only one of the by-products. A student's desire to learn and explore is the one we're really focused on."

Photos provided by Steven Tanguay.

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
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