Nature Farming at Wheeler Elementary
The rationale of initiating a nature garden project is to improve student learning and well being thereby improving test scores in reading and math. It also raises awareness in the community for alternative and sustainable farming to enhance their way of life. Tests results conducted by the State of Hawaii Department of Education in May 2002 indicate that Wheeler Elementary has improved in math and reading. A strong partnership with the Mokichi Okada Association (strong proponent of nature farming) and military groups (98% of Wheeler students come from military families) continue to flourish.
- to expand student learning and encourage career choices in agriculture
to promote good stewardship of the land
to enhance farmer’s quality of life
to disseminate and encourage application of nature farming
The fifth grade students took the leadership in starting a nature garden project in the school. They received professional guidance from farmers of the Mokichi Okada Association, the University of Hawaii, and other farm cooperatives. They went on fieldtrips to nearby farms to expand their knowledge on nature farming.
Once the students have prepared the soil through soil testing and tilling, soybeans were planted to provide the nitrate lacking in the soil and to increase soil vitality. A variety of herbs were also planted to minimize bug infiltration, which was found bountiful in the soil. Crop rotation was introduced. The soybeans and herbs were followed with cucumber and eggplants.
To support student involvement from garden maintenance to marketing, two assistants were initially hired and a part time teacher to provide integration of the garden in the school’s curriculum. The project was opened up to lower grades though on site lectures and garden projects such as seed planting.
The project was a success that local news media took notice and articles were written in several community and city newspapers. The school received phone calls from the community inquiring on how to start a nature garden project or what to do with this or that garden bug! Most of all, because the students learned through actual hands-on experience reading and writing about familiar topics and solving mathematical and life-application problems, the project contributed to the school’s goal of improving student math and reading test scores.
In spite the success, more still needs to be done. A new set of 5th grade leadership has to be nurtured. Learning from the past year, the garden lessons and activities need to be refined and connected to the Hawaiian culture. A sustainable Hawaiian garden section is being planned (what to plant is still under discussion) including the building of a hale (Hawaiian house) to serve as a green house and hold gardens related activities. New produce will be planted such as cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes and lettuce so students can observe first hand how they impact the soil and if market profitability of these produce will increase. They also need to learn how to build an irrigation system to conserve water. It is the goal of Wheeler that all students not only improve reading and math scores but to also develop appreciation and responsibility to be good stewards of the land.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
The project was implemented as one of the tools to encourage the students’ general well being and to tap on their different learning capabilities thereby improving reading and math skills. Studies have shown that effective hands-on learning programs improve academic grades, increase attendance in school and develop personal and social responsibility (1999 Learn & Serve National Study).
The nature farming project at Wheeler Elementary exceeded expectations.
The test scores, a quantifiable evidence, not only improved (see below) but confidence, self-esteem and leadership skills were honed as students discussed and made decisions on the garden project. It also provided education to the parent and community volunteers on the benefits of nature gardening and an awareness of supporting and buying produce free of man-made fertilizers and pesticides.
Wheeler Elementary School
Adequate Yearly Progress Report as of School Year 2001-02
(source: Hawaii Department of Education)
Standard Achievement Test 9 (Stanine 5-9)
1999 2000 2002
Grade 3 53.5% 67.7% 73.1%
Grade 5 73.5% 51.8% 62.7%
Grade 3 50.5% 62.8% 69.8%
Grade 5 62.9% 71.3% 75.0%