Aire Libre at the TERRA Garden

Academic Enrichment Grant 2021-2022 Project Summary

Karen Lo

Yerba Buena High School • San Jose, CA

The “Aire Libre” project will remove the literal and metaphorical barriers around the at-risk student population of Yerba Buena High School in San Jose, California. Aire Libre is a phrase that literally means “free air.” We chose that name for our project because we want our at-risk students to have the freedom to explore both the natural world and their own intellectual and creative capabilities. Our students are pigeonholed in many ways: because they are people of color, because they are low-income, because many come from immigrant families. Aire Libre seeks to knock down the walls that surround them by expanding their high school experience to include not only the core curriculum but expansive and hands-on activities for personal and intellectual growth on the campus’ garden/greenspace, TERRA. Karen Lo and Ivon Rodriguez are the co-advisors of TERRA club. The club is open to all students and teaches gardening techniques and animal husbandry with a flock of chickens. After witnessing the “unintentional” learning that occurred as participants worked and played in the garden, Lo and Rodriguez realized that the school garden could be far more than a pretty location on campus. Aire Libre grew from that realization.

Linked to our school’s student learner outcomes, Aire Libre will consist of activities that will educate students about environmental issues while offering them the chance to hypothesize and experiment with possible solutions; students will work together and learn about diverse cultures and perspectives as they learn about nutrition, cook recipes from various countries, and eat healthy foods made from the fresh and organic produce at the garden. A mental health component of Aire Libre will teach students about positive reactions to stress, anxiety, and depression–gardening has been shown to improve all three. Finally, students will grow as they participate in outdoor-themed lessons about perseverance, responsibility, and patience. If funded, we will incorporate Aire Libre lessons into the AVID (Advancement via Individual Determination) courses on campus and will offer them to all other teachers who are interested.

While our school created ambitious outcomes for our students, we cannot simply hope that they will be accomplished. The acronym PRIDE (Problem Solvers; Resourceful Collaborators; Innovative Thinkers; Dedicated Global Citizens; Effective Communicators) is a worthy goal for our students but there is currently no curriculum, activities, or assessments that show our teachers whether this outcome has been achieved. With this project, we can develop these skills more organically and effectively. Aire Libre will free our students to finally experience life in the open…the life students of privilege take for granted. Students will act instead of sit and experience instead of hear. They will explore the world in positive ways and be free from doors slammed closed in their paths. Aire Libre will help our students to become the best versions of themselves–to live in the open air and, finally, be free.

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