After participating in the Reimagine Program through the CTLE, I had the opportunity to adopt a high-impact practice in my English course. One of the practices that I chose to adopt was community-based learning, which is a type of experiential learning.  Experiential learning is all about getting students involved by participating in a learning activity, having them reflect on their experiences, thinking about how that experience ties into their learning, and expanding on that learning. The experience helps them to expand their knowledge base while developing their skills. I had heard about the Gaucho Urban Garden on campus and thought it would be an excellent opportunity to have the students help address real-world problems. 

Seedlings in garden bed with watering hoses.
Seedlings planted by students. Celery, peppers, and spinach are sprouting.

 I contacted a Biology instructor on campus, Dr. Angela Schwendiman, who was responsible for the Gaucho Urban Garden.  The Gaucho Urban Garden is a garden on campus where students can volunteer to help to plant, grow, harvest, and care for food crops on the campus, the surplus of which is shared with the campus Food Pantry. After contacting Dr. Schwendiman, I designed a course assignment where students would participate in the Garden as a community-based learning project specifically related to the campus food pantry. The students would keep a regular diary throughout the semester of their activities in the garden and toward the end of the semester, they would use their diary and some academic articles to write an essay on the interconnection of student food insecurities, sedentary lifestyle, and urban gardening.

The students were hesitant at first, but many of them became more excited as the semester moved on.  The plants started to grow and the harvest began.  And then the students (and I) got to reap the reward.  They took photos, took videos, wrote in journals, and talked about how they were sharing the vegetables with their family members.  Loads of lettuce, carrots, radishes, and sweet peas were taken to the food pantry and handed out to students.  Students have even taken some plants home to grow in their own gardens.  

January growth, the peas are ready to be harvested. The carrots are just sprouting.

The students had so much information from their experiences that it was much easier to understand the articles they were reading and the topics the articles addressed.  Their experiences also allowed them to demonstrate insight in their writing and every student stated that they were able to write so much more than they ever expected because they really felt they knew the topic. 

If you are interested in learning more about experiential learning, reach out to Lindsay Walker. If you are interested in learning more about high-impact practices and practical ideas for using them in your classroom, consider applying to the Reimagine Program. You can learn more about the Reimagine Program by reaching out to the CTLE. 

All in all, this has been a very impactful and rewarding experience for both the students and myself.   

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