Environmental Education at Marin Country Day School
Bob Densmore teaches sixth-grade science at Marin Country Day School, an independent K-8 school committed to environmental sustainability and education in Corte Madera, California. He describes how the Nourish Curriculum Guide has complimented his teaching and helped his students make connections between their science studies, environmental stewardship, and personal food choices.
As a faculty member on the Marin Country Day School Sustainability Team, I was asked to create a middle school curriculum unit on whatever I felt strongly about for my science classes.
I had already noticed something missing in the environmental education standard. Students would learn about nature and go off on week-long outdoor treks “leaving no trace” in the unspoiled wilderness. Yet when they arrived back home all their plastic bags would go straight into the garbage, and junk food feasts would erupt, with no viable connection to their environmental education experience other than amazing, beautiful memories and a deepened sense of nature. A food system unit would fill that gap by bringing the learning into actual practice in the daily lives of Marin Country Day School students.
I began a search for subject matter and engaging lesson activities to assure that my students would make the connection. There were specific tools offered to help me. I worked directly with Jaime Cloud, of the Cloud Institute for Sustainable Education. I was fortunate to work one-on-one with this sustainability education pioneer to develop a program that identifies truths about the state of our world’s agricultural trends, both the horrors and the inspiring regenerative methods already being practiced by many.
The quest brought me close to home, and I ultimately brought students directly to the local organic farms of west Marin County. For the final project, each student joined in a small group to research and produce an iMovie of the visited farms or related food system topics. Each year the movies, which highlight farmers, local producers and related food system concepts, are celebrated and shared at an invitational Food and Farms Film Festival on campus. As the curriculum grows children are continuously inspired to learn about where their food comes from, how it is grown, and how it gets to the table.
The release of the film Nourish was a timely compliment to my teaching and dovetailed easily into my curriculum. Nourish addresses the value of food as it relates to community, culture, and the ritual of sitting down at the table together. It provides my students with a host of facts and compassionate tools for bringing change into the world, starting with themselves and their families. That the film features young people sharing their own ideas is genius: there is no one that reaches the hearts and minds of youth more deeply than other youth! Furthermore, the Nourish Curriculum Guide supports the film with in-depth thinking skills and activities. This whole package is an all-around perfect fit for my classroom.
I’ve consistently been amazed with the enthusiasm that my students have for diving into this topic. Sustainable and regenerative farming practices really are the missing link in traditional environmental education, born in the 1960s. As a culture we have learned to keep the wild areas pristine, but now we are learning that what happens in our own backyards, gardens, and farms play an enormous role in the health of our environment and our planet.
My students have generously shared food system information with the world outside our classroom: friends, family, and relatives have joined and taken steps to change their own eating habits. Children get it. Awareness of healthy food practices is not only a motivating and relevant topic, but it is one that empowers youth, who easily see the big picture with idealistic views, to make positive changes starting with themselves.
Enjoy, have fun, and eat well.
Marin Country Day School