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Garden-based learning: An experience with “at risk” secondary education students


Garden-based learning associated with improved academic performance and teacher-observed self-confidence and self-esteem in at-risk students

Disruptive behavior disorders (DBD) in adolescents contribute to adverse effects during adulthood and school truancy and dropout during adolescence. The aim of the current study was to explore the effect of garden-based learning (GBL) on academic success and number of disruptive behavior episodes (DBE) in a group of disruptive and low-performing high school students in a middle class suburb in southeastern Spain. The intent of the intervention was to prevent school failure and drop out. The 63 participants were 15 to 18 years old and 54% male. The GBL program involved 16 hours per week of outdoor time in the garden, focused on two broad areas – the science and technology module and the sociolinguistic module, which both included multiple subjects, but with an environmental focus. The garden was comprised of orchard, weather station, outdoor oven, composting area, and greenhouse. Participants took part in the GBL program in two (and sometimes three) of six academic years. The authors employed a quasi-experimental single time series program evaluation design; the authors refer to the design as a case study.

Outcomes were ascertained through the analysis of administrative data and teacher observations. Student-level academic success was calculated by comparing the number of subjects passed the year before participating in the GBL program with the number of subjects passed in the last year of participation. Trends in dropout, graduation, and non-graduation rates during the GBL program were compared with a three-year period before GBL was enacted. The number of disruptive behavior episodes was calculated through classroom observations during two separate time periods at the beginning and end of the GBL program. Teachers kept notes on observed student attitudes and behaviors, as well as comments made by parents during meetings; these notes were reviewed as qualitative results.

The researchers found statistically significant improvements in successive years of the program in all major outcomes including failed versus passed subjects, graduation and dropout rates, and DBEs. Qualitatively, teachers observed improved attitudes toward school and enhanced classroom environment (including improved attention spans), increased student responsibility, increased self-esteem and self-confidence, and improved skills development. Regarding self-esteem and -confidence, teachers reported witnessing their students take pride in their activities and heard from parents that their youths’ self-perception shifted to being more responsible and confident.



Ruiz-Gallardo, J., Verde, A., Valdes, A., (2013). Garden-based learning: An experience with “at risk” secondary education students. The Journal of Environmental Education, 44(4), 252-270.


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