By Amoreena Guerrero, Program Director
The vision that drives our organization is a future in which school garden education helps children become healthy adults who eat fruits and vegetables, know the basics of growing food and contribute to a thriving community. Achieving this vision moves us as an organization, and as individuals, to dig deeper and discover what a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion looks like in the garden classroom.
In sharing about our staff’s process, it is important to acknowledge that, while each of us has a unique personal identity and history, each staff member shares white privilege in one way or another, and all of us are able bodied.
We are asking ourselves “How can we interact with our students and the communities where we work in a way that supports each and every person to achieve their best?” What we are discovering is just how complex it is to answer this question. Even approaching it leads us to more questions and to fundamental shifts in how we operate.
Working toward equity is a challenging process, and it is essential. There are as many starting places to address equity, diversity and inclusion as there are differences in humankind. Each starting place is a path to discovering how our biases and privileges, individually and socially, impact one another.
We are beginning this work with generous support from the Coeta and Donald Barker Foundation to identify ways to increase the accessibility of our science in the garden curriculum for students who have physical and cognitive disabilities. Two amazingly talented local area special education teachers, Cindy Evans and Sandy Itzkowitz, are teaching our education staff how to incorporate techniques to modify our existing lessons to work for the wide variety of learners we serve. This is already leading to changes in the way we work. We are learning the importance of enlisting special education assistants, and the students themselves, in this process. We are also working to share what we learn with our volunteer educators. Our aim is to ensure the garden is both a welcoming and academically rigorous environment for all students, regardless of physical ability or cognition level.
Originally inspired to do this work by the request of a handful of special education teachers, it has led to deeper questions such as: “How can we reduce gender bias in science education?” and, “How can we work more closely with school families to establish and grow garden spaces that are culturally relevant and inclusive?”
The effort to examine our current practices, invite people to sit at the table, and to change what we do to ensure equity, embrace diversity and be inclusive has no end date. Instead it must be woven into our daily operations and long term vision. We look forward to this work and invite you to join us in your own way!