TFS Subscriber Profile – Julia Cotts


A few weeks ago, I attended a fundraiser for the Garden School Foundation, an LA-based charity that has a highly successful school-garden program at the 24th Street Elementary School in West Adams. We toured the lovely space and met the program’s dynamic executive director, Julia Cotts. An LA girl, Julia’s interests in politics and food propelled her to develop a functional curriculum that links the garden to the classroom. After two years of testing and implementing their class and garden lesson plans at the 24th Street School, the Garden School Foundation can boast of 100% voluntary participation from the teachers and administration. And these cute kids’ faces are testament to the benefits of such an excellent and intelligent effort.

Planting gardens in schools is an idea whose time has come – much to our satisfaction and excitement. We are long-time fans of Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard Project but know that a successful garden curriculum is extremely tricky to implement. It takes money and volunteers to plant and tend the garden, first of all. But most importantly it needs the full-on commitment of teachers and administration to integrate the lesson plans for an entire school with the garden, keeping in mind the pressure on every teacher to “teach to the test”.

For kids who don’t have green space in their lives, and for those kids who can benefit from varied and alternative teaching methods, the gardens can be life-altering. But, how can they successfully serve both teacher and child?

Here’s an example of how it works: Third graders learn about animal adaptation in science class, and learn all the attending vocabulary words (camouflage, etc.) from their teacher. Then, they come to the garden to make masks from plant materials foraged in the garden. The kids divide up into groups and play hide and seek with their camo-masks, learning how animals and insects adapt and fit into their environment. Once back in the classroom, the teacher can follow-up by having the kids write a persuasive paragraph about their experience. It’s a fun, creative and tactile form of learning that deputizes a garden volunteer with the simpler part of the project and allow the teacher to remain in control of the curriculum based piece of the lesson. Everyone wins… and the kids are outside getting their hands dirty.  Click here for more about the programs.

Having found success at the local level, the Garden School Foundation aims to bring their successful plan to other schools, and has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $25,000 needed to design and write the curriculum, which is called Seed to Table . Once funded — why not add a few dollars yourself and be part of this cool effort?? — the lesson plans can be downloaded by other schools around town and around the country.

Besides participating in the Kickstarter campaign, you can come down and work at the garden during the GSF’s monthly Saturday workdays – upcoming dates are: 11/17, 12/8, 1/12, 2/9, 3/9, 4/13, 5/4, 5/18 and the program runs from 9:00 AM to noon. Click here for details.

This Saturday, November 17, celebrity chef Michael Voltaggio of ink restaurant will be at the 24th Street School to prepare a meal from the garden’s ingredients.