REAL School Gardens PG

Prince George’s County Council Member Dannielle Glaros and former Council Member Eric Olson, and Louis Velazquez addressed attendees at the groundbreaking of a new REAL School Garden at Beacon Heights Elementary school on Nov. 7.

In an effort to improve the quality of low-income schools, millions of dollars and hosts of programs have been initiated to re-engage students and support teachers across America. A groundbreaking of the REAL School Garden at Prince George’s County’s Beacon Heights Elementary school on Nov. 7 is the latest example of an attempt to refashion classrooms into true learning spaces.

REAL School Gardens promote the great outdoors and natural settings as harbingers to relaxed learning and increased participation. The REAL School Gardens Program has been proven to boost teacher effectiveness and job-satisfaction, and an increase among partner schools of 12-15 percent in standardized test scores (primarily in science coursework). More than 100 volunteers joined County Council Member Danielle Glaros to introduce the program.

“…I am excited that the first REAL School Garden in the Mid-Atlantic Region will be located in District 3 at Beacon Heights Elementary School,” said Glaros. “Led by a dynamic principal, I know the Beacon Heights Elementary School community will embrace their REAL School Garden and the hands-on, outdoor learning it will provide.”

The open space of more than 5,000 square feet, will feature a shaded pavilion, seating areas, white boards, a storage shed, paved pathways, six raised vegetable beds, perennial and herb beds, fruit trees, a compost bin, an outdoor music station, and a weather station.

Beacon Heights Principal Lynne Stuewe said the new garden offered an innovative way for students and teachers to connect lessons across disciplines and demonstrate a larger cohesion between subject matters. “Students always do better when they have real tangibles to look at and see how things connect with one another. With the garden, they get to have a bigger picture of what everything entails,” Stuewe said. “This is really going to be helpful for them. There are so many connections that are going to be made; I just think my kids are going to be better for it.”

“I think it will be really cool to teach stuff outside in nature instead of cooped up in a classroom,” said Jarley Escobar, a student at the school. “It is really cool that teachers are going to help us learn in a fun way.”

And for those who believe outdoor learning creates more of a distraction than an incentive to learning, volunteer Marco Jordon said one need look no further than their own school experiences with boredom. “I was one of those kids whose minds wandered and who spent half of my time looking out of the window wondering what else was going on in the world while this teacher tried to explain different concepts,” Jordon said. “Imagine taking the classroom outdoors so that all of those concepts could be attached to that focus? It would solve many of our classroom issues with gaining and keeping student attention.”

Over the past 10 years, REAL School Gardens has built 100 learning gardens in low-income areas across the nation, and the organization has plans to work with nine additional schools in the D.C. area in the upcoming year.