Tomas O’Grady describes what it’s like to walk onto a typical LAUSD campus, “grey, filthy, uninspiring.” There is a lack of love in the dreary architecture of L.A.’s schools. There is a lack of pride on the campuses where we send our kids. Things are broken and disorganized, a symptom of the larger system.
O’Grady’s answer has been to bring in gardens. Gardens. When I first heard of Enrich L.A.’s agenda I rolled my eyes and muttered under my breath in dripping sarcasm, “yeah, gardens will save our schools.” I was a cynic.
But after an hour talking to O’Grady I think maybe they can, maybe they will. Maybe gardens are the answer.
Even a doer like O’Grady realizes that no one can fix the entire school system. It’s too big, too broken. What the gardens do is put a literal and figurative crack in the concrete. In a sea of grey, the gardens are green. In a place where bathrooms are broken, the garden is growing. Despite disorganization, the gardens thrive.
As he spoke I started to understand what these gardens do: they let something new and vibrant and successful and beautiful take root in our schools.
Kids get out of their bungalows and enter an outdoor classroom. They learn in a new way from a new kind of teacher, a Ranger who is passionate and engaging and invested in the kids. They learn their science and math common core amongst growing, living things.
With the garden a change has been made to a system that feels unchangeable, and it becomes an irreversible shift. It shifts how kids interact with their curriculum and their classroom. In this new outdoor space they are part of making things grow and thrive. They are invested. They feel a sense of pride in every tomato and green bean. They see the actual fruits of their labor. They see an alternative to the broken greyness. They see a different future and they have a hand in creating that future.
Beyond the common core, that is a lesson worth teaching.
At this point I am inspired. Inspired by the “alternative tomorrow” that O’Grady can see and that the gardens start to show to everyone on campus. I am inspired by what is taking root within these forgotten schools. But the cynic asks, is there research on this? Are their studies showing the impact of school gardens or the look of a child’s learning space on their behavior, productivity and test scores? Can we tie these thriving gardens to thriving children? A simple Google search shows that we can, somewhat anyway.
But what makes O’Grady the most excited, the most impassioned, the most committed to Enrich L.A.’s school gardens is the impact they have beyond growing veggies. “The gardens attract more action,” he confides in an awed reverence of one who values action above all else. “Things start to really change.” Because that is the goal of a doer, a reformer, an activist. To disrupt a stagnant system. To crack open the ground of inefficiency. To cause transformation. That is the real goal for a man like O’Grady, and apparently it’s working.
Teachers begin to innovate. The ones who have never been satisfied by the state of their school start to see hope in the lush greenness of the new outdoor classroom. They start to step out and step up. Change expands beyond the tomatoes and green beans. It creeps into the fiber of the school and transforms it from the inside out.
So now I see. I see what a tireless optimist sees. I see how something as seemingly trivial as a school garden can be the catalyst to transform something as unwieldy as a school district. I see how breaking up concrete can transform a culture.
And there is a greater vision for these singular gardens: an LAUSD farm complete with goats and tractors that would produce enough to take food to take over the food services division. Cheerful rangers delivering daily garden programs. A clean fuel fleet of Enrich L.A. vans bringing nutrition to every campus across L.A.. Transformation in every corner. Pride in abundance. Concrete replaced by vibrancy. It’s not just a metaphor, it’s an achievable vision.
So yeah. Gardens. Gardens might just transform our schools. Let’s start pulling up some of that concrete and see new possibilities take root.
A Bit About Me
I am Tenaya, a communications strategist and public speaker telling stories that connect, inspire...and laugh.