Monday, February 26, 2024

Youth Write About Kindness


The Laws of Life essay contest, sponsored by, encourages middle school and high school students to reflect and write about a core value that means the most to them – and why. We are committed to promoting youth voices, thus below we offer 2 youth essays recognized in the Laws of Life essay contest that focus on the importance of kindness. Note: is accepting student essays which they can submit for the 2024 contest over the summer. To learn more, click here

Kindness (Makes Me Happy)

By Addison, Grade 6 – Lasalle Springs Middle School – MO

What would our world be without kindness? What if nobody ever held the door open for you? What if the cashiers never said, “Have a nice day?” We often take these small acts of kindness for granted, but we don’t realize how sad our world would be without them. It seems normal for these small acts of kindness to be done by some people, but what if we all did some? We should all commit to doing random acts of kindness every day, because even the smallest things can lift someone else's spirits. One act of kindness that is simple and genuine is compliments. 

Everyone thinks of compliments in their head every day. Just imagine if every time you thought of a compliment you said it out loud to the person you were thinking about. Not only does kindness make others happy, but it can make you happier too. Think about the last time you did something nice for someone. It probably made them feel really good, and their gratitude probably made you feel good too. If everyone committed to being kind, our world would be so much happier. 

I really only started paying attention to kindness about a year ago, but it has become a really important characteristic to me. I started noticing all the opportunities everyone has every day to be kind. After that, I realized how happy it made me feel to say thank you to bus drivers and teachers, compliment others, and just being nicer overall. It makes me happy to make others happy. I love seeing people smile when I say or do something nice for them. It has been so eye opening to understand how important kindness is, and I believe that everyone has the chance to accomplish this feeling too. Kindness isn’t hard, and it’s free. Just think about how if everyone was kind, how happy our world would be.


Kindness Means the World

By Lila, Grade 7 – Pelham Middle School – NY

It’s hard to believe that this society in which we have family, friends, peers, co-workers, and lovers can be so messy and cruel. There are bullies, litterers, abusers, controllers, and so many others. These people are the ones who start fights, make others insecure or scared, and make the world a worse place. Others just stand around and watch it happen, either because they don’t care, they are scared to step in, or they don’t understand what’s happening. 

However, there’s quite an easy way to fix these problems that ruin the Earth and the living things on it. It’s called kindness. Kindness, by definition, is “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate”. This can be shown in many different ways, whether you’re listening to a friend when they need support or helping sick animals in the ocean. No act of kindness is less important than the other, as they change the world for the better, no matter how slow the change is or unimportant it may seem. But not everyone has the means or energy to do this, much less even think of it. 


Those are the ones who break society’s standards and the people in it, uncaring and bitter. They may reply to a post on Facebook, calling someone dumb, or they may attempt to hurt someone in ways unthinkable to the average person. Even acts that seem like they mean nothing change something, even by a little bit. In order to see this world thrive, to see it become a better place with people looking at each other with care and beauty and not disgust or horror, society needs to drop their selfish ways. The world needs to know what kindness feels like in order for the world to improve. 

Source: How Do Elementary Students Show Kindness to Others?

With kindness, people wouldn’t get judged for being different, wildlife would get more care, people wouldn’t get abused or teased, standards would lower, the environment would be cleaner, and so much more. This is why kindness is so important to me. With kindness, the whole world would change for the better, as long as everyone has it and has the desire to act upon it. Even one person doing the wrong thing could lead to the victim taking it out on other innocent people, becoming a chain. But if everyone could be kind and see what others and our Earth are going through, they would see the impact of their decisions. The world isn’t like this yet, but it may be one day. With one step at a time, the human population could become better and better, but it will take a while. As long as other people hold the same beliefs as me, my dream may become a reality. Everything counts, no matter how small the action may seem.          

MORE ABOUT... is a non-partisan organization that advocates for character. is comprised of educators, researchers, business and civic leaders who care deeply about the vital role that character will play in our future. Their worldwide network empowers people of all ages to practice and model core values that shape our hearts, minds, and choices. Their mission is to provide global leadership, voice, and resources for developing character in families, schools, and organizations. 

Help impact the lives of young people in the Lahaina burn zone. In Aug. 2023, Maui experienced one of the worst wildfires in Hawaiian history. 

The How Kids Learn Foundation is sponsoring a bake sale to benefit the Maui Family YMCA and provide afterschool activities for Lahaina youth.

To learn more or donate virtually to our bake sale, click the link below.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Addressing the Worker Shortage: Hiring Young People in Afterschool Programs

By Sam Piha

One of the major challenges facing the afterschool field is the worker shortage. One solution: expand our labor pool by hiring younger and older workers. 

One important way of addressing this worker shortage while improving program quality and its attractiveness to young people is to engage older youth and program alumni in the operation of the program. There are multiple benefits - both to the program and the young adults who are engaged as leaders or hired as staff.  

Who would know better about the benefits of hiring youth and program alumni than the young people who were granted this employment opportunity? In 2015 we interviewed youth who worked in an afterschool program. Below are some of their statements regarding their experiences. 

Lorena Retano, Program Alumni, Youth Institute

Lorena Retano, Age 18,
Youth Institute 
Program Alumni

Being a Youth Institute alumnus is probably one of the best things I’ve experienced. I’ve had the opportunity to work on multiple jobs teaching kids, younger than me, how to use movie and photograph editing software. The best example I have for what I experienced when being hired to work in an afterschool program was when I went to Richmond two summers ago to go teach iMovie, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe InDesign. A team of three other people and myself spent about six hours a day teaching kids in middle school and high school how to use the different software. It was really exciting to share my knowledge with other people.

To work in an afterschool program you need to have confidence in what you are doing with your students so that you are not only successful but so that your students respect you. Supporting youth and program alumni in practicing different skills is definitely a great way to develop that confidence.

David Montoya, Program Alumni, arc

David Montoya, Age 20,
arc Program Alumni
I was a student of the after-school program for 4 years. After I graduated, the program offered me a job. It was a great opportunity since I was pretty familiar with the program - I knew what was going on and what needed to happen. At the beginning, it was a bit weird since I went from being a student to a staff. The staff was very supportive, the students saw me as their friend. It took me a while to set myself aside from them and to build a line and to show them that I am a staff now.

Being hired allowed me to go to school, have a job, and do something that I love. I brought everything that I knew about the after-school program. As a student participant, I gained leadership skills, which I used in my community, and most importantly at my school.

I think when people think of young adults they think of people who have no experience, who don’t know what they’re doing. But I think we are capable of taking on bigger responsibilities. We just need someone that would trust us and give us a chance.

Skhy Felder, Program Alumni, Youth Institute

Skhy Felder, Age 17,
Youth Institute Program Alumni
Employing program alumni gives them the opportunity to grow and gives them the feeling of being an adult. They understand the younger youth better because they, in a way, know the struggle they go through.

From this experience, I have an advantage for future jobs. I can’t wait to be a full staff member, give back to the youth and give them my knowledge. I want to be that staff that a youth would say, "I remember when so and so helped me through this".



Jon Cabral, Program Alumni, Youth Institute

Jon Cabral, Age 18,
Youth Institute Program Alumni
The addition of older youth and program alumni into the team of afterschool professionals greatly affects the dynamic of the experience for both youth and staff alike. Working this past summer as technical instructor after finishing my third year as a high school program alumni student, it shifted from being the student inspired by mentors to the mentor inspiring students. Having been with the YMCA and its branches since sixth grade and having grown up with the program, I’ve definitely benefitted from having a young, relatable staff person, which I saw as my older sibling. Largely of who I am today is a result of the many young mentors I have had through the YMCA.

My responsibilities range from afterschool tutor assisting in homework questions and project help, to a mentor lending advice - a hand for help, a shoulder to cry on, or whatever else an adolescent teenager navigating through middle and high school would need. 

Coming back and being able to give back to the program that helped me grow gives me the gift of now being the person I needed when I was young. This job equipped me with technical, child development, and professional skill sets and provided me with advantages leading to my being a well-rounded person and professional.

Adriana Zuniga, Program Alumni, Youth Institute

Adriana Zuniga, Age 17,
Youth Institute Program Alumni
While working as an intern for the program, I experienced many benefits. I was able to get hands-on training from the staff and also teach younger kids the basics of computer literacy and camera functions. It gave me a chance to learn technological skills and help develop my social skills. Having been involved with the program for four years, I already know how the program runs, what is expected and how to do certain things that incoming interns are not familiar with yet. Because I already have experience, I can lead my own group of people on projects or inform them on how to use a Canon camera or edit a photograph on Photoshop.

David Molina, Program Alumni, A World Fit for Kids! 

David Molina, Age 27,
WFIT Program Alumni
I am an alumnus from A World Fit for Kids! Mentors In Motion (MIM) program at Belmont High School. I was a part of the program for 3 years. The Assistant Coach position was my first job that I held and I began to do it when I was 15 years old. The position was the dip of my toe in the water that is the real world. This position provided me my first professional experience that I ever had; it was a great learning platform.

When I graduated high school, I was fortunate enough to be asked to coach soccer at Lawrence Middle School, while I attended California State University Northridge. I was able to bring my 3 years of experience into the fields right off the bat. I knew the high standard of performance I had to deliver to the kids that I coached.

The wealth of knowledge that I gained was immense from the time I was a MIM. I always felt that the MIM program is a great resource to groom future coaches because the lessons taught are specific to the afterschool program and their expectations. These types of positions are usually entry level positions and they are usually a stepping stone to students’ eventual careers.

Jacob Reyes, Program Alumni, arc

Jacob Reyes, Age 21,
arc Program Alumni
The impact we have made is amazing. Hiring older youth helps communicate more with the students because we know how it is to be a student, we understand their feelings, and we can help them in the best possible way that we can.

I think that hiring program alumni is an important practice because the communications between alumni and students are close and more responsive. Students can go up to us and talk. They don't have to fear oppression of what a teacher or an adult might give them. They feel a sense of trust in us, which is good for a student.



You can learn more on this topic by reviewing 2 briefing papers that we developed to help afterschool programs hire older youth. 

Engaging Youth as Workers in Afterschool Programs

Engaging Youth as Workers Within High School Afterschool Programs

Monday, February 12, 2024

Voices from the Field: Hiring Older Youth Workers in Afterschool

Source: Experience Corps

By Sam Piha

Eric Gurna is the former president and CEO of LA’s BEST and he has some experience with hiring older youth workers in afterschool programs. To learn more about this, we asked him a few questions and his responses are below.

Q: Do you think hiring older adults to work with youth is a good match?

A: I do think hiring older adults to work with youth is a good match - it's mutually beneficial for youth participants, young adult staff and older adults. We don't create enough opportunities in our culture for intergenerational exchange outside family settings. Historically we had these opportunities for older and younger people to interact in mutually enriching ways but in our current modern American society this is lacking, and bringing older adults in to work with youth in informal educational settings is a way to do that. Older adults bring a range of experiences that they can share with the mostly young adult staff of afterschool programs as well as youth. In practical terms it is also a good fit - the youth program workforce is largely part-time, and many older adults are looking for that kind of arrangement. 

Q: Generational diversity (older workers)- What are the benefits to the workplace, workers, and youth?

A: Please see answer above! Intergenerational communication has the potential to build empathy and understanding on all sides.  

Q: What are the potential challenges?

A: Because many young adults have not had the opportunity to interact with many older adults outside their own family, some may feel a bit close-minded to learning from and working with older adults. Likewise, some older adults can bring a sort of "I know best," condescending approaching to younger staff. I think these challenges are relatively minor, and can be mostly avoided with a strong staff orientation and ongoing professional development process, so that all staff learn and grow together.

Source: AARP Experience Corps

Q: How should an organization prepare itself to incorporate older workers?

A: I’m not really sure of the specifics here, but I think the first step is to learn from other organizations who have made intentional efforts to incorporate older workers already. Understanding the needs and concerns that older adults have about coming into a youth program workplace is important, so asking them about that would be a good start as well. 

Q: Any resources that you would recommend?

A: When I was CEO of LA's BEST Afterschool Enrichment Program, we had a thriving partnership with AARP Experience Corps - they have developed amazing partnerships with youth programs across the country and have a wealth of experience to learn from.  

Q: Would you offer any tips for program leaders?

A: Besides what I have already mentioned, I would encourage program leaders to stay open minded and enthusiastic about the idea of bringing older adults into their workforce - that positive attitude will go a long way. 


Eric Gurna
Eric Gurna is an experienced nonprofit executive and consultant committed to supporting the work of organizations dedicated to community & youth development and social justice. From 2015 to 2021, Eric served as President & CEO of LA's BEST Afterschool Enrichment Program, a partnership of the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the private sector serving 25,000 children at nearly 200 Los Angeles elementary schools. Eric joined LA’s BEST as the second President & CEO in the organization’s history. During his tenure, LA's BEST helped to lead a statewide advocacy movement that led to close to $200M in increased funding for expanded learning programs, secured the largest private donation in organizational history ($2M), spearheaded an initiative for LA's BEST to become the first large-scale trauma-informed expanded learning system in the nation and completely revamped the organization's visual branding and messaging.

Eric brings a deep commitment to positive youth development to his work, and a national reputation for thought leadership in the Expanded Learning movement. He also brings a nuanced understanding and appreciation for how children learn and develop, and a passion for staff and program development.


To learn more and register, click here.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Gardening in Afterschool: How to Get a Grant and Needed Resources


By Sam Piha

Farming the Future offered the following remarks on how to find funding for an afterschool gardening program. 

“Having a garden for your school can be one of the most rewarding projects, not only for your students, but also for you! But, as rewarding and special as school gardens can be, they can be difficult to get started. Getting your school garden off the ground and running requires funding and support. If you are having trouble finding grants for your garden, we have just the right resources for you.

Introduction to Grants: For starters, grants are money specially designated for a distinct purpose. They are typically given out to a wide array of those in need of specific funding like businesses, governments, and even individuals. You or your school can also apply for grants. Grants are always for a specific purpose and often require some level of reporting or compliance to the rules stipulated in the grant. In order to get a grant, you will have to apply and follow the rules and guidelines as well as answer the questions provided in the application process. There are many routes to take when applying for grants but one of the best things to do as a precursor to applying is to have a plan. Create a plan that maps out the intended garden size, potential activities, and how a garden will impact your school overall. This plan will strengthen your case to get approval for the garden from your school administration and will help you answer questions when applying for grants. The next step is to actually find grants that are for your project: a new school garden!

Finding Grants for Your Garden Project: Finding grants and applying to them can actually be one of the hardest and most frustrating things when starting a school garden.” Not only does it seem overwhelming with the number of potential grants there are and figuring out where to start, but also applying and waiting on the results can be a pain. A potential helpful tip for this problem is to start somewhat small. Apply to small foundations and grants before swinging for the fences with the larger grants. Also, knowing the proper places for applications and committing to the work will benefit you in the long run. The process can be time consuming but ultimately very rewarding because it can lead you to your very own school garden! Here are some of the best places to find grants for your garden:

One of the most helpful sites is called $eedMoney. This foundation gives out 255 grants totaling in $40,0000 dollars to all kinds of community garden projects, as well as, school gardens. $eedMoney gives grants and raises money based on a crowdfunding challenge that runs a month long. You are also able to donate throughout the year. The great thing about this foundation is that it is a one stop shop for many grants that you could possibly qualify for. They also offer helpful tips on starting a school garden as well as all kinds of regular gardening tips once your garden is up and running.

Another amazing site for grants is This site is special because, as the title suggests, it focuses directly on kids and gardening with them. This will be such a helpful resource once your school garden is functioning. They have links and tabs for educators during the gardening process and a “Gardening Toolbox” with tips for gardening basics and activities. But, most importantly for your initial start-up, they have a massive list of grants for potential gardens just like yours. Their grant page lists grants that Kids Gardening offer and grants from other various foundations. This site will be great before and after you get your very own school garden! 

Another potential website for grants and gardening help is Growing Spaces. This site focuses on selling and building domes and greenhouses, but they also have an entire page for non-profit foundations that offer grants for community gardens. Growing Spaces offers discounts to schools when buying from them which is a nice kicker along with their support. They continually update their list of potential grants and have an email and phone line for those with questions.

There is another route to take when finding or applying for grants and that is through credit unions. Oftentimes, credit unions offer grants to various businesses and schools in order to grow a strong community around them and support their customers. Right here in North Florida, Envision Credit Union offers their own Envision Classroom Grants. This focuses on giving teachers the opportunity to “expand their curriculum and engage their students” (Envision Credit Union). This is perfect for a school garden and the application process is quick and easy.

Getting Going: Finally, you have found your grant and are working on applying. As mentioned before, its best to have a plan so you know what you need to accomplish your goals and cement your vision for your own school garden. Application requirements for these grants will vary between each one and applying to these will certainly take time; some more than others. You just have to be prepared, patient, and persistent and you will get the school garden of your dreams. Check back in with Farming the Future for more tips, tricks, and advice on getting, having, and running your very own school garden.” 

(Note: Our series of blog posts on gardening in afterschool are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Gardening in Afterschool Programs.) 

More About…

Farming The Future is the leader in providing all-in-one school garden kits, classroom grow kits, student take home grow kits and aquaponics. FTF provides dynamic learning solutions for K-12 institutions utilizing agriculture, project-based learning and an online virtual teaching platform. Their programs integrate agriculture, sustainability and good nutrition with Next Generation Science Standards.” [1] 

Additional Resources:


To learn more and register, click here.



[1] How To Get a Grant for a School Garden

Monday, January 22, 2024

More Voices From the Field on Gardening in Afterschool

Source: Courtesy of Change The Tune

By Sam Piha

Afterschool programs are particularly well positioned to engage youth in gardening activities. To learn more about this, we interviewed two afterschool practitioners: Sara Brown (SB), Garden Educator and Coordinator, A.P. Giannini Middle School, SFUSD, and Charli Kemp (CK), Executive Director, Change the Tune. (Note: Our series of blog posts on gardening in afterschool are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Gardening in Afterschool Programs.) 


SB: The AP Giannini Middle School Garden Program hosts inquiry based environmental education classes during the school day and hosts a Garden Lunch Club twice a week. We also offer community engagement opportunities for community members both during and outside of school time. 

CK: Part of our innovation comes from focusing on food justice. Our goal is to build the capacity in our youth who are our future leaders to be able to not replicate broken systems, but to build sound powerful structures that are designed to center the voices of the collective. Part of that work centers food justice and gardening. By teaching youth how to grow their own food and then cook their own food, they learn a variety of soft and hard skills that prepare them to understand we are what we eat. We have to cultivate our wellness through our work with the soil and our food.  


SB: Benefits to the youth:

  • Hands on project based learning opportunities, cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables!
  • Science exploration, inquiry-based learning opportunities.
  • Getting students outside interacting with the natural world
  • Give students who don't thrive in a classroom setting alternative modes of learning
  • Skill building i.e. learning to use new tools and how to take care of living things

Benefits to staff:

  • Hands on learning and teaching opportunities
  • Project-based learning, staff isn't constantly having to come up with new lesson plans, projects can be ongoing
  • Skill building i.e. learning to use new tools and how to take care of living things 


  • Healthier food options
  • Opportunity to apply STEM concepts
  • Clarity around the food chain process 
  • Building connection to our land and our soil
  • Joy in the learning space  



  • Accepting that it will take a long time for it to feel sustainable, the first few years there will probably be a lot of disappointments
  • Having the capacity for a staff to be continuously caring for the garden
  • Things in the natural world are less likely to go according to plan
  • Sustainability, how can we make sure this can be a continuous program?

CK: Finding the resources and capacity to continue programming. 

Source: Courtesy of Change The Tune



  • A maintenance plan i.e: who is going to water, take care of the soil, do pest management?
  • Think long-term what will happen over school breaks, what seasons will the garden need more support and utilize volunteer support
  • Start small, with something you know you have the capacity to maintain, i.e.: 1-2 garden beds and maybe a worm compost bin


  • Talk to your constituents. Ask what they would like to do. 
  • Engage local experts, create collaboration and partnership opportunities.  






  • Parents for volunteer support, donations of supplies
  • Nurseries: will usually donate last years seeds
  • Local coffee shops: for coffee grounds for compost
  • Community gardens, for gardening questions and sometimes spare plant starts


Source: Courtesy of Change The Tune



  • Have grace for yourself, gardening can both be very rewarding and frustrating things often don't go according to plan
  • Always plant more than you think you will need
  • It's okay to get starts from a nursery, somethings are really hard to grow from seeds (like alliums)
  • Take care of your tools
  • Plant things with an idea of what you can cook with youth


Sara Brown has been the garden teacher and coordinator at AP Giannini Middle School in San Francisco, for 3 years and has 7 years of experience in Environmental Education. Their work is fueled by their belief in making science learning and the natural world accessible to all. Currently, they are getting their Master's in Science Education at San Jose State University, so that they can continue to foster non-traditional learning settings in which students can thrive. Their favorite activities in the garden are finding worms and watching the chickens run like tiny t-rexes.   

Bay Area Community Resource’s (BACR) mission is to promote the healthy development of individuals and families, encourage service and volunteerism, and help build community. They carry out their mission by (1) providing direct school- and community-based services, (2) connecting volunteers with opportunities to best serve their communities, and (3) building and strengthening all of the communities they serve so that community members and institutions can effect change. 

Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center (SNBC) offers afterschool programming at several schools, including AP Giannini Middle School. It is a community-based organization serving San Francisco’s Sunset District. Their mission is to provide supports and opportunities to ensure the healthy development of children, youth, and adults. Their purpose is to connect people to their passion, potential, and community.

Charli Kemp is the Executive Director of Change the Tune. She is a curator of transformative, musical-learning experiences that empower individuals to create positive systemic change. Utilizing education as a vehicle for activism, Charli is driven in her desire to end inequitable systems, to create opportunities and access for underserved communities. With Change The Tune, she seeks to reimagine the learning space by creating revolutionary extended learning spaces that provide radical and transformational learning experiences in partnership with communities.

Change The Tune is a 501c3 nonprofit that works to close the opportunity gap for youth in underserved communities by creating holistic, radical, and transformational extended learning experiences in partnership with communal organizations. They have three key strategies in their approach to this work: create & lead programs that students love, train & develop organization & school leaders, and mobilize communities to invest in innovative learning approaches. Change The Tune serves schools in Los Angeles, Chicago, Sommerville and the Bahamas. 


Videos: Good for adults and youth



Monday, January 15, 2024

Voices from the Field: Gardening in Afterschool

Source: Real Options for City Kids

By Sam Piha

Research tells us that young people’s connection to the outdoors and nature contributes to their healthy development. This connection can be promoted by involving youth in gardening. And afterschool programs are particularly well positioned to offer gardening activities. (Note: Our series of blog posts on gardening in afterschool are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Gardening in Afterschool Programs.) 

To learn more, we interviewed Natalie Gustin-Toland, Outdoor Education and Recreation Director, Real Options for City Kids.

Q: Can you briefly describe your organization and what you are doing concerning gardening with kids? 

Natalie Gustin-Toland
A: I work with the non-profit Real Options for City Kids which provides services to youth and their families in the Visitacion Valley neighborhood, in San Francisco. We serve the community in a myriad of ways, one of which is through our Outdoor Education Program. Our program brings youth on outdoor adventures, builds skills and knowledge for youth and families, and provides weekly outdoor education, science and gardening classes to youth in afterschool programs.

Q: What are the benefits of a gardening program in afterschool for youth? 

A: There are so many benefits for youth and the general community related to gardening in afterschool. First off time in afterschool is plentiful, and we usually aren't striving to meet the rigorous academic standards like teachers are working towards during the day. We are able to provide time and space in a more flexible setting for youth to connect with natural spaces, such as gardens.

Students in afterschool are able to connect with plants and gardening informally, doing activities like digging in the dig zone, watering the plants, catching and studying bugs, sketching, and cooking with the food grown in the garden. These spaces are also frequently maintained by students after school, especially in communities who cannot afford garden educators during the day. Maintained spaces not only teach youth about how to care for nature, but also contribute to the beauty of the school overall. Caring for spaces on the schoolyard not only instills school pride, but also promotes leadership and ownership over spaces on school campuses. Another great component of gardening afterschool is the ways in which you can incorporate aspects of community engagement. This can look like growing crops which reflect cultural foods from the populations of the neighborhood. Families can be invited in to teach about crops, recipes or medicinal uses for plants grown which align with their cultural heritage. Students can also run leadership projects such as farmers markets or seasonal produce tastings for the community.

Q: What are the potential challenges?

A: Access to resources such as planting space, supplies and funds to buy supplies are all barriers to gardening in afterschool programs. Many schools have gardens, but not all are maintained, and some afterschool programs do not take place in spaces with access to nature. Finding staff with the skill set to lead classes like gardening and outdoor education can be tough as well. Lastly, finding a curriculum which fits the needs, and the skillset of the program can take some time to work out.

Source: Real Options for City Kids

Q: How should an organization prepare itself to incorporate gardening? 

A: Find the space you can garden in. You can think outside of the box if no space is available such as partnering with local community gardens, community centers or senior centers. Additionally, projects such as milk carton planting are fun as starter units for gardening if you want to try it out, that don't require an established garden. Finding a skilled teacher who has the knowledge base around caring for green spaces and growing food is also helpful. Finding a curriculum to align with is also helpful for programs that do not have capacity to design their own curriculum. Lastly, always thinking of longevity and maintenance for spaces, who cares for the garden over breaks in programming? How can you set these spaces up for success in the long run?

Q: Any resources that you would recommend? 

A: Life Lab has an awesome free gardening curriculum adapted from the late Education Outside program. Mystery Science also has fun units and curriculum to inspire. Science Action Club from the Academy of Science provides a great curriculum aligned with garden programs featuring units with topics such as bugs and birds. Additionally, you can use the apps Inaturalist or seek to engage in citizen science in your gardens! If you are looking to build existing staff knowledge around gardening practices, Garden for the Environment in San Francisco hosts workshops about gardening, however there are other organizations like this one if you are in another place, even checking out local garden stores for flyers or other community connection leads.

Source: Real Options for City Kids

Q: Are there any organizations to consider partnering with? (community gardens, parents, local businesses, etc.) To get donations? To learn more? 

A: I highly recommend finding a local garden partner. In Visitacion Valley we partner with the Visitacion Valley Greenway. With them we have access to experienced gardeners, supplies and gardening space for larger scale projects. We are also always on the hunt for grants which will help fund furthering our gardens, the Whole Kids grant for example is a great one, it also comes with resources to learn and support your program! 

Additionally, there can be lots of local businesses and organizations to support. Here in the SF area, we have reached out to local businesses such as Sloat Gardens, and Flora Grubbs Gardens for donations. Our chapter of the California Native Plant Society also has supported us with donations of plants, and a plan for where to plant them.

Q: Would you offer any additional tips for program leaders? 

A: Make sure you connect with community members in the spaces you plant at, and make sure the spaces aren't already spoken for, or that stakeholders don't already have plans for them is helpful if applicable (i.e. classroom teachers if at a school, PTA etc.). Additionally, gaining community investment, what would the community like to see in those spaces? Pollinator attracting plants? Trees or tall plants for shade? Food growth for cooking classes? This can help you shape your plans for your classes or clubs.

Source: Whole Kids Foundation


Natalie Gustin-Toland is a San Francisco Bay Area-based educator who has dedicated her career to serving in the Outdoor Education and Out of School Time fields. Over the past decade she has focused her work on program management, working in spaces such as summer programs, afterschool programs, outdoor education programs, and other community-based spaces. She is passionate about bringing a focus on equity and access to the table, and ensuring that these principles remain integral to all aspects of her work. Connecting communities to the outdoors in order to foster lifelong passion and agency in nature is the cornerstone of Natalie's purpose. 

Real Options for City Kids Since 1994, R.O.C.K. has served the needs of children in the community by providing structured programs that foster personal development within a safe, loving and supportive environment. With the help of our programs, children who might not otherwise have a reasonable chance to succeed are granted a level playing field.

Youth Write About Kindness

Source: The Laws of Life essay contest, sponsored by , encourages middle school and high school students to re...