My Internship As a Garden Educator in Amherst Public Schools

mars in garden
Mariana conducting lesson on compost

Over the course of my semester working with the Amherst Regional Public Elementary Schools and with Leila Tunnell (Amherst School Garden Educator), I have discovered the wonder, beauty, and difficulty of being a school garden teacher. This experience really helped ground me into practicing the teaching skills I have been developing for the last few years.

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It’s a very different experience to be learning about how to handle certain situations in the classroom, versus actually being in the moment and having to figure out how to tackle whatever is thrown at you by an often challenging age group. I worked primarily with kindergarten and first grade aged students, and as much as I love working with young children, I found that those ages are particularly difficult to reign in and be able to impart knowledge to. On one hand I found it very challenging to maintain some control over the students while still being able to teach them. On the other hand though, I really enjoy how kids at that age are so exuberant and excited about everything, and even though they are easily distracted, they are eager to learn and participate.

Teaching out in the garden or at a nearby farm is also a very different experience from teaching in a classroom and requires being adaptable and flexible. I certainly learned the importance of maintaining the students attention and though I still need a lot of practice, I have a much better hold on how to do that now, especially in unfamiliar/exciting environments.

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Drawing on Shelburne Farms’ “Cultivating Joy & Wonder” to design garden-based lesson

Another piece of my internship that I found to be particularly interesting and challenging was writing lesson plans and then teaching them. Having the Massachusetts state standards as a guideline for what we had to include in each lesson was helpful but also felt a bit restrictive at times.  Shelburne Farms in VT has a ton of useful resources that were referenced and inspired our work. Overall I genuinely enjoyed writing and adapting garden lesson plans to fit the requirements while still being a fun and interesting way for the students to learn about food and how it grows.

I’ve had many people ask me why school gardens are important and why students should have time taken out of the school day for it. Having worked as a school garden teacher for the semester, I can say that I have seen firsthand the difference being outside for a little bit can make in a student and their attention span. I’ve seen students being restless and disruptive in class and then go out to the garden and become a completely different student; one that is attentive and helpful. Another big reason I have for why I believe it is important is because there is a major disconnect between most people and where their food comes from.

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I feel that for people to be healthy and to be able to make informed choices about what they eat they need to have a connection to how that food is grown and more generally, where it comes from. For example, even though I’ve been working in the rural, agricultural, and progressive Pioneer Valley, I was amazed that many of the students had no idea how vegetables like carrots grew. It is for health and fostering a love of the natural world that I believe this work is important and much needed in our current world of disconnection, and I’m beyond excited to be part of the growing movement!       

-Mariana Lachiusa, Sustainable Food & Farming Senior, Stockbridge School of Ag, UMass


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