Jacquie Richardson has been teaching in the Flint Community Schools for 22 years but she has seen a change in her students since implementing place based education projects three years ago. Now, her students are more engaged than ever before and taking charge of their own education.

Richardson began working with a group of Freeman Elementary third and fourth graders three years ago. The students grew their own cucumbers in the classroom and made them into pickles.

The following year, energized by their previous success, the same group of students wanted to expand their project. Richardson said her students wanted to do more than just grow vegetables so they explored how to grow bigger and more unique produce in the classroom. They settled on growing microgreens. The students were able to sell their microgreens at the Flint Farmers’ Market, which had the added benefit of providing them with a lesson in economics. By the time, she taught a unit about economics later in the semester, she said her students already grasped all of the concepts because of their previous business experience.

This most recent year has been the most inspiring yet. Richardson partnered with Flint’s Stockton Center at Spring Grove and helped her students, who are currently in sixth grade, construct a community garden onsite. The octagon-shaped garden was themed and produced vegetables and herbs to make pizza including Roma tomatoes, oregano, thyme, green peppers and mild peppers. The students visit their garden four times a year and after reading about the loss of Monarch Butterflies decided they also wanted to built a butterfly garden at Stockton Center as well. When students visit the home, they spend the entire school day there, completing both their place based work and the regular daily curriculum assignments. She said students enjoy doing schoolwork on the porch and down by the creek. The partnership has also allowed for students to get history lessons from the building’s caretakers and she said some of the kids have become “mini-docents,” giving their own tours when they visit the property.

The group also constructed an aquaponics project in the classroom during the winter months. The project grew fish and plants and recycled each others’ nutrients in the closed system.

Richardson said the biggest value of place based education comes from the kids initiating their own learning. By coming up with the designs and pushing themselves, they are taking charge of their own education, she said. The students are so excited about the projects they even work on them during lunch and afterschool.

The partnership with Stockton Center gave the kids more ownership of the project and motivated them to do more. She said when Stockton was featured in the newspaper, her students referred to it as “our house.”

“They don’t realize they are learning, they are just having fun,” Richardson continued. “So when they realized they were, they were shocked they had learned something so quickly without formally studying it in the classroom.”

Each year, Richardson’s work has been supported by Discovering Place grants. She said with the funding in Flint schools being continuously and drastically cut, the place based education activities were one thing she didn’t have to worry about. Without support, she wouldn’t even be able to afford bussing for her students.

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