Green Teen Assistant Educators Prepare for the School Year

As the summer came to a close and the autumn began, we were delighted to hire 6 of the 9 Highland Youth Garden Summer Green Teens back for the entire school-year. Two of these students, Luul & Nasro, became Green Teen Assistant Gardeners, helping our Lead Gardener, Charlie, with tasks like farmer’s markets, harvest, watering, and other garden needs. Four of these teens, Jasmin, Delia, Courtney, and Jenna, became Green Teen Assistant Educators.

The roles of Assistant Educators are multi-faceted and exist mostly to strengthen, develop, and manage Garden Club (learn all about Garden Club in this blog post); teens meet weekly on Thursday afternoons to plan for Garden Club. Saturdays mornings, they meet in the Garden to work alongside any kids who show up to the garden for “Open Garden Playtime & Activities” at Highland Youth Garden, where local neighborhood kids come to play, explore, and work in the garden; teens also do these planned Garden Club activities with any kiddos who show up Saturday, getting a chance to “rehearse” with fewer students, in a more relaxed setting, before doing them with their 20 students at Garden Club. Finally, Tuesday afternoons, for an hour and a half, the four teens run Garden Club, doing their planned activities from Thursday alongside the kids, mostly in small groups.

Training for the Green Teen Assistant Educators

Dr. Chao discusses how using digital tools can help students can engage in “digital storytelling” with STEM.

Dr. Chao discusses how using digital tools can help students can engage in “digital storytelling” with STEM.

The first week and a half or so before Garden Club, Sept 5-14, the teens met several times each week to attend trainings and prepare for their first Garden Club on Tuesday, September 17.

Two of our guests, Dr. Theodore Chao and Dr. Mandy McCormick Smith from The Ohio State University College of Education & Human Ecology, met with the teens to discuss STEM education, covering questions like: what is STEM education? Why is it important? And how does our identity impact the way we view ourselves as "STEM learners?” They offered incredibly important “big-picture” perspective on STEM identity and how to make STEM education fun for elementary students.

The Teens later reflected on Dr. Chao and Dr. Smith’s suggestion that the first few weeks’ activities in Garden Club should be all about “exploration” in the garden. They wisely suggested that designing activities which would get students exploring and comfortable in the garden would give the education team a great foundation for developing future STEM & Garden activities that could authentically engage students in topics in which they were very interested.

Jasmin Shows off her felt pieces

Jasmin Shows off her felt pieces

Their enthusiasm and deep expertise on the topics of elementary education, and specifically STEM education, brought clarity and excitement to the Green Teen team. We were thrilled that they offered to return to work with us again once Garden Club really got rolling.

Another guest speaker, Linda Pettit, was a highly experienced environmental educator from the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District. Dr. Chao and Dr. Smith were first able to give excellent insight into STEM-specific concepts and big-picture ideas, and Ms Pettit helped the team by offering concrete ideas and suggesting methods for activity development and elementary group management. The four teens had a blast tapping into their “inner kid” as they played with & created felt board pieces and practiced making “food chains” with pictures & children’s link toys. It got them thinking: what kind of stuff did I enjoy as a kid? What activities were my favorite, and why? By playing like a kid, they were really thinking critically about how to make Garden Club fun & educational for their elementary students.

Garden ClubTeresa Woodard