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Teacher Sows a Community Through a Compost Garden

June 11, 2013
By
Original Author: Soledad Palacios

worm_in_palm_of_hand_istockphoto

Everyone can do this, all the information is on the Internet.

Amapola Beenn

Teacher

De Colores Head Start

When Amapola Beenn, a teacher at De Colores Head Start, brought worms to school to show them to her students, she couldn’t imagine the impact this event would have for the school and the community.

It started as a curiosity for the children, and today it’s a community project whereby the Oakland preschool is getting ready to launch a compost garden on the roof.

“Since we don’t have an actual garden at school, I had the idea of starting a garden using wooden boxes as beds on top of the roof,” Beenn said.

With 90% of the students from Mexico or Guatamala, Beenn has made a significant contribution to the Latino community and, more importantly, immigrant Latino kids.

Beenn, who is also an immigrant, has successfully started a compost garden as a learning tool to teach young kids science.

Cultivating community involvement

Beenn had been looking for lesson plans that were untraditional. She felt that this compost garden would provide low-income immigrant children the opportunity to experience tending a garden since most of them live in urban homes—even less desirable ones like garages, Beenn said.

Beenn has always been a very active member in the community, and a project like this wasn’t difficult for her. “I only asked permission to the director, but I did everything myself,” Beenn said. “Everyone can do this, all the information is on the Internet and people tend to support initiatives like this.”

The idea was conceived when Beenn’s friend told her about a compost project, and gave her a bag of redworms—a species of earthworms—with little soil to start. Beenn put the worms in a plastic container and, as the children fed them, they started to multiply. Seeing this, she asked herself what could be done with them.

As a first step, she applied for the 2012 Mini Grant from the Altamont Education Advisory Board, which awards money for recycling education. In November, the Board awarded Beenn a grant to buy a compost tumbler, gardening tools and books.

Now, people are hearing about the project and want to help by providing donations, including soil and wood for the garden boxes. Parents are motivated to work in the garden and college students are also volunteering.

“Most of the families in Alameda have limited resources and don’t have free time to spare, but they appreciate what we do with the children and are grateful,” Beenn said.

Educational benefits

Observing the worms, children learn about the cycles of life and science. “I put them on the table and the children observed them, counted them and drew them,” Beenn said. “Most importantly, they asked a lot of questions.” Their questions led to language development and an introduction to math, science and nutrition. They learned the worms eat organic food to produce compost for the plants. As a result, the children and their families have made changes in their diet—a very positive thing for everyone.