I've been privileged this year and last to participate as a jury member for the Council of Educational Facilities Planning International's Innovative Educator: Environmental Based Learning (EBL) Award. This year, the award was presented to Cory Johnson, teacher at Rogers High School in Spokane, Washington.
Cory’s proposal included a complete and a planned project – establishing and expanding the Rogers’ Community Garden in a sunny, but unused niche at the school. Many garden projects are blossoming at schools around the State. But Cory’s garden specifically furthers the progress of English Language Learners (ELL). “The immigrant and refugee students in my classes often have very isolated lives outside of school. The community garden provides an invaluable third space where students can interact with each other, develop their communication skills, and enjoy experiential education,” says Cory. One of the amazing factoids about this project is that students are motivated to tend the garden all through the summer.(Imagine coming to school voluntarily!)
For green roof afficionados, Cory is interested in incorporating sustainable agriculture as part of the community garden project in the future, and is particularly interested in exploring how the roof at Rogers might be used as productive garden space.
CEFPI Washington’s EBL Award is to improve the understanding of the nexus between the physical environment provided by educational facilities and the learning that takes within them, by rewarding exemplary educators who demonstrate this relationship in an innovative way. The 2010 jury unanimously agreed that Cory’s learning project, inspired by Seedfolks, a novel about a young, immigrant girl who started a garden in an urban neighborhood, had the breadth, respect, and devotion we were looking for.
Cory accepted his award at the CEFPI Washington Conference this year, which included a check for $1,000 to him directly to spend as he liked, as well as $2,500 to the Spokane School District towards the planned expansion project. Greg Brown, Facilities Director accepted the latter on behalf of the SSD, who quipped in an aside to me after receiving the check that now he’d “actually have to think about putting in a green roof!” Greg and I spent many hours debating this and other topics as part of a larger stakeholder effort to develop the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol (WSSP), which is in the process of being updated.
Kathleen O'Brien is President of O'Brien & Company, and Editor of Building Capacity Blog. She was the primary consultant working with CEFPI and OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) in the development of the WSSP, and — little known secret — taught seventh grade in Buffalo Public Schools in the early 70s.
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