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.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Hiring Older Workers in Afterschool

Source: Americorps Seniors

By Sam Piha

A solution to the afterschool program worker shortage AND the need to diversify staff is hiring and deploying older adults or “wisdom” workers. We are working to raise understanding and awareness of the impact of hiring older adults to work in afterschool programs and how youth programs can utilize this talent pool.  

There are multiple benefits of bringing on older workers. These benefits involve many of our stakeholders. The benefits below are listed in and The 10 Benefits of Connecting Youth and Seniors written by Jenée Mendillo, Bayshore Home Care. 

  • Youth
    • Fill a void for children who do not have grandparents available to them;
    • Provide an opportunity to learn new skills and understanding of history.
  •  Older Adult Workers
    • Gives a sense of purpose;
    • Invigorate and energize older adults;
    • Provide an opportunity to learn new skills;
    • Improved health and wellbeing: Some studies have found that intergenerational practice can have positive impacts on health and wellbeing, including reduced feelings of loneliness and improved physical and mental health outcomes. 
  • Workplace
    • Increased understanding and respect: Intergenerational practice can help to increase understanding and respect between different generations and can help to reduce negative stereotypes, bias, ageism and prejudices;
    • Intergenerational practice can help to build a stronger more inclusive workplace by bringing people of different ages together and promoting understanding and cooperation;
    • Administration: In addition to working directly with kids, older adults come with past experiences that can be very useful in the administration realm. 

  • Larger Community
    • Increased opportunities for volunteering and civic engagement: Intergenerational practice can provide opportunities for individuals of all ages to get involved in volunteering and civic engagement, which can have numerous benefits for both the individual and the community;
    • Enhanced community cohesion: Intergenerational practice can help to build stronger, more inclusive communities by bringing people of different ages together and promoting understanding and cooperation;
    • Increased understanding and respect: Intergenerational practice can help to increase understanding and respect between different generations and can help to reduce negative stereotypes, bias, ageism and prejudices. 
Source: Americorps Seniors


Lin Grensing-Pophal shares in The Benefits of Wisdom and Experience, “The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) name and debunk myths and stereotypes about older workers:

  • Myth 1: Experienced workers are more expensive. It used to seem logical that the longer an employee worked for an organization, the more costly they became. That's no longer the case as more organizations have moved to performance and market-based pay models rather than the tenure-based models. 
  • Myth 2: 'Older' workers fear technology. With the right resources and training, anyone can learn, adapt, and embrace technology. Regardless of age, we all learn new programs and applications all the time. 
  • Myth 3: Over time, people stop caring about their work. Employers and their HR advisers will likely be glad to hear that more experienced workers are engaged workers. SHRM reports that 65 percent of employees over age 55 are engaged at work. 
  • Myth 4: 'Older' workers have more health problems. According to SHRM, younger workers actually take more sick days. 
  • Myth 5: 'Older' workers resist change. SHRM reports that more startups are founded by older people than younger people.” 




Hiring Older Adults in Afterschool Programs

This webinar is designed to raise understanding and awareness of the impact of hiring older adults to work in afterschool programs and how afterschool programs can utilize this talent pool. It will review the benefits of an age- diverse staff, provide program examples and tips on recruiting, train and utilize older “wisdom” workers in administrative and direct service positions. We will also share resources for afterschool leaders. We recommend this webinar to program and organizational leaders and program staff as they consider the best ways to recruit and incorporate multigenerational staff into their program.


To learn more and register, click here.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Starting A Gardening Club: Tips for Program Leaders

Source: Healthy Food Choices in School 

By Sam Piha

For program leaders wanting to incorporate gardening into their programs, it is helpful to learn from others, which can include visiting other programs. Below we offer tips from practitioners that may be useful. (Note: Our series of blog posts on gardening in afterschool are excerpts from a larger briefing paper entitled, Gardening in Afterschool Programs.) 

The Healthy Food Choices in Schools organization offers several tips for those considering a gardening club or project:

“Many students participate in after school activities to extend their learning opportunities and spend more time with friends during the day. Afterschool garden clubs provide a great way for students to learn about gardening and gain hands-on experience growing their own food and tasting the fruits (and vegetables!) of their labor.

Pick your space: Every garden needs sun, soil, and water. Pick your ideal sun or shade garden location on school grounds, giving thought to your need to deliver items like loads of soil and seedlings, and your access to drinkable water. Other things to consider are whether you need space to push a wheelbarrow, and if you have storage nearby for garden tools. Give yourself time for construction of any raised or in-ground beds, and for bed preparation. 

Pick your growing season: Decide if you want to host a fall garden club, a spring garden club, or a year-round club, and decide how frequently your club will meet. During the warmer gardening months, a lot can happen in a week! Pick your crops based on season, and length of growing time. Students will be most excited to see crops go from seedlings to fruit stage, and then to harvest. 

Source: Smithsonian Gardens

Water: Your garden will need water—lots of water. Make sure that you have access to a hose that provides drinkable water throughout the garden season. It’s a good idea to create a watering schedule and have backups

Safety first: All in-ground garden spaces should have the soil tested for lead and other contaminants prior to planting. One exception is if you are starting a container garden and using bagged soil and organic matter that you know to be free of contaminants. When adding soil to your garden beds, be sure it is an appropriate soil mix for growing produce. Also consider whether your garden needs fencing to keep out deer, rabbits, raccoons, or other critters that enjoy fresh produce. You will want to ensure that anything you put on the garden is safe for children to handle, and that the produce will be safe to eat. Use of manure and pesticides are not acceptable practices for youth gardens.

Gather supplies: Make a wish list of your garden supplies and circulate it to your school community. You will likely get many hand shovels, rakes, and buckets. School fundraisers are another great way to get funds for larger items like wood for bed construction, wheelbarrows, hoses, and fencing. Local businesses may be willing to donate supplies, and many organizations have grant funding available for school garden projects. A minimal list to get started includes soil, seedlings/seeds, a hose, shovels, and gloves for participants.

Choose a theme: Remember that the garden is more than just a growing space—it is an outdoor classroom. Many students enjoy growing gardens that have themes. Popular ones include pizza gardens, herb gardens, butterfly/pollinator gardens, and native plant gardens. You can also create an ABC garden, a math garden, storybook garden, or international garden to reinforce classroom concepts. Have students decorate the garden with creative signage.

Manage expectations: Gardening is a wonderful learning experience. It is also an exercise in patience, trial and error, and working with uncontrollable variables like the weather. Visit other school gardens for ideas and inspiration, and get the students involved from the start..” [1]

“By incorporating a garden into an afterschool program, educators can create a dynamic and enriching environment that promotes active learning, fosters a connection with nature, and encourages positive health and environmental habits among participants.” [2]

Additional tips for incorporating a garden into an afterschool program are offered by Damon Carr (Farming the Future):

Engage Stakeholders: Involve parents, teachers, and community members in the planning process to build support and ensure the garden aligns with the afterschool program's goals. 

Start Small: Begin with a manageable garden space and simple gardening activities, gradually expanding as the program gains momentum and student interest grows. 

Design Theme Gardens: Create theme gardens, such as a sensory garden or a pollinator garden, to provide diverse learning opportunities and sensory experiences. 

Tailor Activities: Adapt gardening activities to accommodate various age groups and abilities, ensuring that all participants can actively engage in the garden. 

 Source: The Urban Garden Initiative

Hands-On Learning: Use the garden as a hands-on learning environment, incorporating science, math, and environmental lessons into gardening activities. 

Cultivate Creativity: Encourage artistic expression by incorporating garden-related art projects, such as garden sculptures or nature-inspired crafts. 

Healthy Snacks: Use harvested produce to promote healthy eating habits, offering fresh snacks or hosting cooking activities with garden-grown ingredients.  

Environmental Stewardship: Teach students about environmental stewardship and sustainability through composting, water conservation, and eco-friendly gardening practices. 

Garden Journals: Have students keep garden journals to document their experiences, observations, and reflections throughout the gardening journey. 

Community Events: Host garden-related events, such as garden tours, harvest celebrations, or family gardening days, to involve the broader community and showcase the program's impact.” [3]  

For more information or to implement a garden program in your school, contact Damon Carr at:

Partnering with others can be very beneficial. We offer some ideas below:

Community Gardens
According to Smithsonian Gardens, “It is not the first time Americans have turned to community gardens to reshape city life. The community gardens we see in cities today have evolved from a long history. Since the 1890s, Americans have turned to the garden to confront social problems such as economic recession, war, urban decline, and environmental injustice.” [4]

Source: Smithsonian Gardens

“Many urban reformers began to create school gardens for children, particularly those of immigrants and lower-income residents. Educators feared urban life would have negative effect on children. Gardens, they hoped, would be a way to connect youth to nature, teach them responsibility, and improve their physical health.” [5] 

Is there a community garden nearby? If so, consider partnering with the community garden. 

Other Community Partners
Incorporating gardening in an afterschool program can be supported by enlisting partners to assist by donating funds, materials or labor. Partners can include:

  • Nonprofit organizations, such as local garden clubs or community youth organizations.
  • Community businesses, such as nurseries, hardware & lumber stores or businesses that sell gardening supplies.
  • Parents and Individuals from the larger community can provide volunteer labor or donations. They can also serve as gardening experts. 

It is best to involve youth when enlisting partners or funding. Perhaps your youth participants can help identify businesses in the community that might be appropriate for a donation request and deliver the request themselves. Young people can also design posters that identify businesses that support the gardening program, which they can display in a window. Young people can also design and deliver thank you cards for businesses that donate.


Let Youth Lead

Source: FAB Youth Philly By Guest Blogger, Rebecca Fabiano, Founder & President, FAB Youth Philly (This was originally published on the ...