A school program focused on the outdoors, health and the environment
Julie Coutu teaches at Paul-Arseneau High School where she created Les grands ESPAces, an optional outdoors, health and environment course through which she wishes to offer an educational, stimulating and sustainable environment that will generate long term benefits for her students.
Paul-Arseneau school is located in L’Assomption, today an urbanized environment where the decrease in agricultural lands has resulted in a “food desert” With the purpose of restoring local agriculture and providing help to disadvantaged students, Julie initiated this course, in which urban agriculture plays an important part. Here are some of the initiatives born from this project over the past year:
- Planting fruit trees (apple trees, pear trees, plum trees) with the participation of a technical agriculture program teacher and Cegep students
- Self-service refrigerated space filled with fresh and healthy snacks (fruits, vegetables, etc.)
- Distribution of more than 5000 snacks since the beginning of the year
- Partnership with a neighbouring daycare center so the kids can come and see the outdoor installations
- Indoor hydroponic garden
- Outdoor space with small fruit trees (raspberries, blueberries, etc.)
- Outdoor garden
- Green wall with medicinal plants currently under construction
As beneficial as it has been, the outdoor garden project was also time and effort consuming and was accidentally destroyed some time ago. So, the Vireo indoor hydroponic garden came to answer Julie’s needs and expectations, allowing her to stay in control of the project, receive support, and successfully grow plants indoors, without the constraints of an outdoor garden. The implementation of the Vireo indoor hydroponic garden has thus become a key element in her hands-on initiative Les grands ESPAces.
Ideas and initiatives for the educational garden
The Vireo indoor hydroponic garden project is a turnkey solution, but users are free to experiment as they please and create a project that is all theirs, as did Julie. So far, here are a some concrete educational activities she did with her class that directly involved the Vireo garden:
- Growth test of various seeds from various origins (use of the scientific method, including testing and hypothesizing)
- Entrepreneurial project: Christmas catalog of green products, such as chamomile and lavender bath salts that have grown in the garden (sustainable development awareness and openness to the world, which encourages the entrepreneurial spirit of students)
- Cooking allergen-free pesto with basil, which is then frozen and sold to teachers (discussion about healthy lifestyle habits and development of concrete skills)
- Sponsorship of a special needs class (DIMS-TSA) with her own class: several times during the year, students with disabilities came to visit Julie’s class, where they had help from her students in preparing seedlings, transferring them to the garden, making clay pots and transplanting the plants in these pots, in order to offer them to their mother (teamwork and development of social and emotional skills).
Furthermore, the Vireo project led to concrete learning opportunities and results, which motivated students and encouraged their participation, for example: each student brings a lettuce home; the harvest is sold to other teachers and parents, which funds a school trip at the end of the year, etc. The sale of the harvest is very popular and, when people come to pick up their order, they are always impressed by the students working in harmony. Julie sees it as a hands-on experience that “[…] adds beauty and life into our school,” through which students become more engaged in their learning and feel a sense of belonging to their group and school.
The impact of an environmental project on students
During the pandemic, the impact of the Vireo indoor hydroponic project on student behavior and the integration of new students has been unequivocal:
“Last year, we had a bubble class due to Covid. Students were in the classroom from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm and I felt the impact the garden had on them. They tended to it without me having to ask anything. They were there and willing, the work was done by itself. Teenagers wanting to take on responsibilities like that does not come as a surprise, and it brings added value to a classroom.”
“It’s a great project for creating a sense of belonging to a group, to a class. It breaks isolation. Last year, in my class, there were 5 new students from other schools, but they were integrated quickly. They took their place and did the work, which helped their integration […] It also has a social vocation. It will be integrative and part of some of the projects that we’ll keep for the long term.”
The project, in an educational setting, demonstrates a positive impact on the well-being of both the participants in direct contact with the garden and students and teachers of the school who simply come to observe it.
“Students enter the classroom and they feel good. Not only are there benefits for those cultivating and gardening, but when other students see it, they also touch it, smell the leaves, etc. It brings another dynamic, makes you know your students in a different way, and opens the door for discussion on their career choice.” says Julie.
Moreover, Julie mentions that an 11th grade student asked her if classes exist to “learn these kinds of things.” Through this experience, to which students can relate concretely, they understand that what they learn can actually lead them to a career or be useful in “real life.” The impact of the project is beginning to be felt outside the classroom, and the enthusiasm is spreading throughout the school. Other members of the staff are starting to see the relevance of such a project and the way to integrate it into their own course or classroom.
On a personal level, the Vireo indoor hydroponic garden project has piqued Julie’s interest and curiosity, so much so that she enrolled in an urban agriculture higher education program. There, she meets people from other communities and backgrounds, which gets her out of her comfort zone and deepens her knowledge, allowing her to go even further in her projects.
Because of the many benefits it generates, garden-based learning is gaining momentum in education and communities. The efforts of teachers like Julie do not go unnoticed. In fact, Julie is one of the big winners of a Prix Monarque (Gala lanaudois de l’action climatique) for the environmental education of her project Les grands ESPAces, which will certainly leave its mark on the next generation and, ultimately, on her community.
A Vireo hydroponic garden project in your school
Do you wish to start a school garden project just like Paul-Arseneau High School? Adding a Vireo hydroponic garden to your school provides a fun, inclusive and collaborative learning project that boosts your students’ well-being and performance. Start by booking a consultation with a Vireo advisor who will guide you through the operation of this educational garden.