REAL School Gardens works to bring learning gardens — and a new way to teach science —  to low-income schools.

The idea of having a community garden is nothing new. It’s a popular way to promote sustainability, healthy eating and camaraderie. But one organization has found it’s also a powerful way to improve teacher effectiveness and boost student interest and engagement in science.

REAL School Gardens, a nonprofit organization with offices in Washington, D.C., and Texas, partners with companies and nonprofits to bring learning gardens into low-income elementary schools. Schools are selected through a grant application process, says Jeanne McCarty, the organization’s executive director, and students use math and art to develop a design for the garden. A few weeks later, they come together with REAL School Gardens staff members, corporate volunteers, parents and teachers to bring the ideas to life.

The gardens are currently installed in more than 90 schools in Texas, McCarty says, and there are plans to expand to several more schools in the District of Columbia area in the coming school year, including Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School, Barnard Elementary School and Bridges Public Charter School.

“I saw a golden opportunity to actually bring what was happening outside of the classroom into the school day,” McCarty says. “Our whole mission is to create learning gardens that grow successful students, so we focus heavily on the learning garden as a space to do that, a way that kids can get real, hands-on experience outdoors that is linked to what they’re studying in the books.”

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Out Teach, formerly REAL School Gardens, provides professional development for elementary school teachers. Out Teach prepares them to use school gardens, outdoor classrooms, and green schoolyards to improve instruction through three-dimensional project-based learning, and outdoor experiential inquiry-based education. Professional learning with Out Teach improves hands-on science and STEM education through instructional coaching and digital education resources and improves 21st Century skills.