Cultivating Life: A Study of a School Landscape Project
Type of Degreedissertation
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This study was conducted in three parts. Parts one and two compared students at Fayetteville School (FHS), Drew Middle School (DMS), and Lincoln High School (LHS). FHS comprised the experimental group, whereas DMS and LHS served as the control group. FHS participated in a landscape project prior to this study that involved planting over 400 trees and shrubs, and installing a children’s garden. Many FHS students were involved in planting exercises, with each of the 650 students having the opportunity to be a part of planting. In part one, both the experimental and control groups completed the Children’s Environmental Response Inventory (CERI) Survey, which assessed the students’ environmental attitudes. The CERI Survey examined two internal scales, environmental adaptation (EA) and pastoralism (PA). A lower EA score and higher PA score indicate a positive environmental attitude. When examining all study participants, the experimental group exhibited more positive attitudes than the control group in both internal scales, with the experimental group scoring lower in EA and higher in PA. Many other studies reported similar findings when children participate in gardening programs (Bowker and Tearle, 2008; Cammack et al., 2002; Dirks and Orvis, 2005; Lohr and Pearson-Mims, 2005; Waliczek and Zajicek, 1999). In part two, FHS faculty, parent, and student perceptions were compared pre-and post-project. FHS faculty, parent, and student school perceptions were also compared to the perceptions of faculty, parents, and students at DMS and LHS. Both the experimental and control groups completed the School Grounds Inventory (SGI) Survey, which assessed perceptions of the school grounds. Five internal scales were utilized for both faculty and students: pride, needs met, benefits, use, and total. For the parents’ survey, four internal scales were used: pride, needs met, benefits, and total. When examining the faculty experimental group, their post-test scores were higher than their pre-test scores in four of the five constructs: pride, needs met, use, and total. The experimental and control faculty groups were then compared, and the experimental group scored higher than the control group in pride and total. Next, parents SGI scores were examined, with four increases from pre-to-post-test in the areas of pride, needs met, benefits, and total. When comparing the experimental and control parent groups, the experimental group scored higher than the control group in three of the constructs: needs met, benefits, and total score. Finally, student SGI scores were examined. When comparing the experimental group pre-and post-tests, there were four increases in pride, needs met, benefits, and total. The experimental and control student groups were then compared and the experimental group scored higher than the control group in the same four areas. The results of this study support previous literature reporting that plants on a school campus improve perceptions of school grounds, as well as students’ attitudes toward school (Waliczek et al., 2001). These results indicate that the experimental group experienced the benefits of being around plants and nature in an improved school grounds environment. They may have benefitted from not only their involvement in the landscape project, but also their improved view out their classroom window. The purpose of the third part of this study was to examine the landscape project at (FHS) and to answer the question of how the faculty, staff, and students experienced the landscape project. Another purpose was to garner advice for other schools interested in implementing a similar project. An intrinsic case study method was utilized and 13 semi-structured interviews were conducted with faculty and staff at FHS who’d been involved in the project to varying degrees. All interviews were recorded and then transcribed for analyses. The data were reviewed for emerging themes and several preliminary categories were formed. After further review, the themes were combined to create seven categories. The most valuable information came from two of those categories, benefits and challenges. While the project offered many benefits, the most significant were the increase in pride and ownership experienced by all the stakeholders and the increased use of the outdoor spaces to offer active learning opportunities. Of the challenges from this project, maintenance, time to utilize the garden for education, and ideas for incorporating lessons into the garden were the greatest challenges.