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School Garden Resiliency: Expanding the Sustainability Curriculum at Kaimuki Middle School

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At Kaimuki Middle School (KMS) a class of 30 students walks silently across campus to the Green Lab observing everything around them. They experience cars passing by, rustling of the wind in the trees, different birds and lizards, and their thoughts. At the outdoor Lab they explore the edible garden, compost, mulch, aquaponics system, worm bins, and butterfly garden. They collect under a monkey pod tree that faces the blackboard wall mural. The space is dotted with student-made outdoor tables. Also under the shade are two adjacent tarps where they sit and start to write their observations. Afterwards, we start our lessons in sustainability: vermiculture, permaculture, growing edible and native plants, food justice, water conservation, alternative energy, citizenship, solar ovens, and more! I teach sustainability at Kaimuki Middle School. Welcome to my classroom.

I am a recent transplant from Los Angeles where I was involved with social enterprises, public health research, teaching how to garden hearty edible ecosystems in low income neighborhoods, making art, and constantly learning more about urban ecosystems gardening, growing food, and alternative economies. Now I am building a resource network for Oahu educators on my blog Aloha Resiliency.

I work with Lianna Lam, KMS's Sustainability Coordinator. Lam initiated the Green Lab in 2009 as a science teacher. KMS students, staff and The Green House Hawaii's afterschool program Learning Environmental Awareness Program (LEAP) collectively created the space. Four classes provide weekly maintenance of the Greenlab.

This year Lianna and I feel inspired to accomplish big goals with the students and community. In the first 4 weeks of school KMS students have: sheet mulched a 15'x20' space and planted sun hemp, started planting 2 raised pallet beds, remulched the 30ftx30ft space in the Green Lab, and started the basil project. October 13th is Adopt-A-School Day and we are having a Hawaiian Garden Build Day. Two 8th grade classes are studying Hawaiian ethnobotany and permaculture design. They will also be designing the garden. Volunteers in the community, including our congressman, Stanely Chang, will be joining us. If you are interested in volunteering, click here.

I have worked with many different gardening programs. It is not always easy to gain the community support necessary to make them sustainable. The KMS principal, Frank Fernandez, sees the value of integrating sustainability in the school curriculum. Lam makes it easy for teachers to incorporate sustainability in their classrooms. Our curriculum allows students to create and test sustainable systems while satisfying national Department of Education standards. This gives me faith in the sustainability program's resilience.

Here are some tips for a resilient school garden:

· Gain support on campus--many hands makes light work.

· Gain the support of the community--connect with groups that can provide financial support, after school programs, plant donations, presentations, fieldtrips, etc.

· Start with compost--grow your own soil, vermiculture is a good quick start.

· Start small--it's important to learn how much you can handle.

· Remain persistent--keep building on what you have learned from failures and explorations.

· Share the bounty--giving flowers, herbs, and fruits from the garden are a great way to gain support.

· DO NOT be intimidated--many organizations including your local Master Gardeners volunteer to help future school gardens just like yours. Reach out!