International Educator - May/June 2012 - 44
Creating an Organic Garden With Schoolchildren in Chile
Joshua Kessler, a student at Middlebury College, describes his sustainable education abroad experience, as told to IE.
I HAD SOME PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE with sustainability projects but this was the first time that I would be leading an eﬀort to promote sustainability. But once I talked to the director of the school and a chemistry professor, the project evolved into the idea that we would build an organic garden that could supplement the science curriculum by teaching the students about chemistry, the environment, and sustainability. the environmental and sustainability aspects of the project would be particularly important due to the fact that in chile, especially in public schools, there is little emphasis placed on environmental education. the garden was completed in phases. at the beginning of the project, I gave some presentations to the students that taught them about some of the scientific elements that we Middlebury student Joshua would encounter in the garden Kessler working on the frame (such as the greenhouse efof the greenhouse that he and students in chile later raised and fect and the compost system). painted. afterward we cleared the area of weeds and trash, dug the compost hole, collected organic material, and placed it into the hole. the students would monitor the compost hole over several weeks making sure that the appropriate nitrogen and carbon levels were being maintained. then we began the construction of the frame for the greenhouse and planted the seeds in little pots. When the frame and compost pile were both ready, we transferred the plants into a hole inside the greenhouse with the composted material. this area would serve as the primary garden, where students would tend to the plants year round. this project changed my perspective on sustainability because in the same way that the students were learning about how composting works, and the eﬀects of greenhouse gases, I was learning about these topics at a deeper level than I previously had. I really had to research how these processes happened so that I could explain it to the students clearly and answer any potential questions that they would have. With respect to the garden, I had never grown plants or made compost on that type of scale. When I got to see that we could take organic waste and teach with it, I became really interested in sustainability. and not only did we teach with it, but we also ended up making the school environment a little more aesthetically pleasing. So I’ve come away with a great appreciation for sustainability and sustainability practices. In fact, I’m trying to work with some type of organization that promotes sustainability this summer. Sustainability projects and practices can solve a lot of problems that our society is currently facing. I also think that some sustainable practices will become necessary in our daily lives, so it will be important to educate young people as soon as possible.
InternatIonal educator M AY + J U N E .1 2
companying Green Link resources to help students find environmentally focused education abroad programs, match employers with interns interested in environmentally sensitive companies or NGOs, and ultimately help young people become “globally conscious green-collar citizens.” Middlebury College has long been in the forefront of promoting sustainability, at home and overseas. “Most of the world lives much more sustainably than Americans,” notes Stacey Woody Thebodo, assistant director of international programs at Middlebury. “We want our students to go abroad and bring some of that home.” Thebodo was instrumental in starting Green Passport and contributing to the Abroad View Foundation and Project 350, both initiated by Middlebury graduates. The site 350.org—350 parts per million representing the level that should be the limit of CO2 in the atmosphere [and the goal is to below 350 parts per million for the optimal safe level of CO2]—offers a guide to “building the climate movement while you travel, volunteer, or study abroad,” including everything from documenting climate stories to organizing an educational event to “embedding the number 350 in public consciousness across societies, languages, and ideologies.” Middlebury also offers $500 Sustainable Study Abroad Grants to be used for research or sustainability projects. In fall 2011 Joshua Kessler helped students at Liceo Pablo Neruda in Santiago, Chile, transform a neglected area behind their school into a garden and greenhouse, spending only $350 of his grant for all the necessary wood, hardware, seeds, pots, topsoil, and “a lemon tree and an orange tree that really started to grow beautifully.” Kessler gave presentations to the Chilean students on the composting process and the greenhouse effect and came home with a new interest in sustainability himself. “I understood that it was something that I should be interested in, but honestly it was never something I practiced. However, now I am much more conscious as to how my actions are affecting the environment.”
Partners for Sustainability
For many international education programs, this is a time of great innovation and experimentation in making students aware of traveling more sustainably and providing options to learn more about sustainable communities. Some of the innovation is reflected in a wide variety of new partnerships. Northwestern University already had a good rapport with the Chinese consulate in Chicago and sought
courtesy of Joshua kessler