Multicultural School Gardens: research report 2

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Cutter-Mackenzie, A & Eastwood, K 2008, Multicultural School Gardens: research report 2, Gould Group, Monash University, Melbourne, Vic.

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This report contains the research findings of the 2007 Multicultural School Gardens project evaluation. The project is ongoing and finishes in 2008. Like the project, the research process is also ongoing. The primary purpose of the evaluation was to measure the impact of the program against its stated objectives: celebrating cultural diversity and demonstrating the benefits of multiculturalism;

→ creating multicultural garden and cooking projects within the school;

→ helping to develop strong local communities and school communities; and

→ fostering healthy eating habits In 2007, 17 schools participated in the project. The evaluation consisted of three research phases, namely a school and student progress survey, children as researchers and school post survey. Consistent with the 2006 research findings, the 2007 research findings shows that the Multicultural School Gardens project is having great success in working toward meeting its stated objectives. The children as researchers phase provided insights about the implementation of the Multicultural School Garden project in 5 schools. The research indicates that schools typically adopted a whole school approach when implementing the program, and encouraged community involvement. The garden project was embraced by the students. The research revealed that students and teachers perceived their garden as an engaging and stimulating learning environment which fostered ‘real life learning’, critical thinking, and problem solving through the application of knowledge. Teachers identified the garden as an effective teaching tool which enabled teaching and learning to be directed towards student interests. According to staff, the garden naturally facilitated discussion and exploration in the areas of healthy eating, intercultural awareness, science and the environment. In all schools, students expressed pride and ownership in their garden, and responsibility for its development. The survey data revealed that participating schools took different approaches in implementing the Multicultural School Gardens program. Two approaches were primarily taken, namely a whole school approach and project approach within ESL programs. Overall schools rated their Multicultural School Gardens experience very positively. The support of the Gould Group and ongoing professional development and learning provided by the Gould Group was also rated very highly. Students also rated the program positively and indicated a desire to participate in further environmental education programs similar to the Multicultural School Gardens project. The participating teachers identified a number of barriers. The primary barrier was lack of school support or change of school principal. Other barriers included funding, lack of rainfall and family/parent involvement. The vast majority of students indicated no barriers or suggestions for improvements. Students identified lack of rain and consequent lack of plant growth as the primary barrier. In short, the evaluation shows that the Multicultural School Gardens program is meeting and/or exceeding its objectives, having a profound influence on schools, communities and households.