In its pilot year, the program centered around the Responsible Citizenship pillar of sustainability. Students used the Lower School garden as their focus for learning about collaborative design and developing their communication and leadership skills.
For the past two days, under the supervision of Academic Dean Susan Droke, Director of Responsible Citizenship Clare Sisisky and Capstone Coordinator and 4th Grade teacher Carolyn Villanueva, the 4th Graders immersed themselves in the design thinking process to address the challenge “How might we design a learning garden for our school community?”
On Monday, they ventured to Richmond-area learning garden sites to get ideas for re-inventing the Lower School garden. On Tuesday, they interviewed teachers, students and administrators to ask for their input, then brainstormed how their gardens should look. This morning, the group worked on prototypes of their creations and finalized their plans.
Fourth Grader Hazel Miller felt pleased with her group’s progress on their garden prototype despite the time limitations.
“It’s going pretty well, she said a few hours before her group and others presented their ideas to parents and school administrators. “If we were really going to make it, we would make it stronger and add things like doors.”
Mrs. Sisisky and Mrs. Droke met with parents and other guests before the student presentations to explain how the capstone’s foundation in design thinking helped the 4th Graders practice collaboration, communication and teamwork, while also also equipping them with resilience and problem-solving skills.
“The end product is not the purpose,” Mrs. Sisisky said. “The purpose is the learning that happened over these three days.”
The student-designed gardens in Joya Sellers’ and Heather Garnett’s classrooms included features such as rain barrels, gazebos, compost bins, areas for seating, a water system incorporating sponges, a robot that could sense when plants needed watering, as well as areas for growing fruits, vegetables and plants that attract pollinators.
“The program has been a great learning experience for them,” said Ms. Sellers. “It encompassed so many of the soft skills that they need. But they feel like they are making a difference.”