Assets School K-8 Principal Blog

Our Newest Classroom Has No Walls

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Everyone knows that we broke ground last week on our new K-4 Village, which is very exciting. What you might not have noticed is that we already added a new classroom to our campus over the summer – a roughly 850 square foot school garden! Though this classroom doesn’t have a roof or any walls, some of our deepest and most meaningful learning can occur in this type of natural educational setting. Our new garden area is located near the Assembly Area and features garden beds, a wash sink, benches, toolbox storage, compost bins, vermicompost bins and aquaponics. The school has always had classrooms that cultivated their own smaller gardens but this is the first time we’ve had a coordinated, campus-wide garden space.

If you’re trying to imagine what this space was before, it was largely unused. It used to be an outdoor lounge area when the high school was still on campus. It had a wooden swing (that broke) and a picnic table, along with a couple of tiny garden beds. Toward the end of last school year, we reimagined the space and then spent the summer transforming it. It’s quite a stunning transformation considering this space was hard and unnourished. Check out photos of the space changing over the summer:

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There were many hands and hearts that worked on building this new fabulous space, including many teachers and students. The biggest mahalo goes to our Garden Coordinator (and Kindergarten teacher), Caitlin Mates and her husband Chris, who led the vision and construction. We also want to thank Debbie Millikan for sharing her expertise and resources. We mahalo the Kokua Hawaiʻi Foundation for their generous grant.  We also mahalo Reuse Hawaiʻi for teaching us how to make compost bins, and the Ku ʻAina Pa project for sharing valuable gardening information.

As a faculty, we’ve been discussing how we are going to utilize this new space and I’m excited for you to see what the teachers have planned! There are some powerful integrations with science, math, art, music, Hawaiiana, and social studies curricula planned. Students have been working in the garden since the summer and as early as the first days of school, pulling the cover crop and readying their plot for their first planting.  

Why did we decide to develop this space? Because it allows us to promote values and skills that Assets holds dear. The garden is a place that inspires children’s curiosity and exploration.  The nature of gardening teaches us patience and attention to detail. It’s also the rare place that allows to be both gentle and physically vigorous, depending on the work-of-the-day. It also brings children great joy! One of the joys for the adults is watching the smiles on student faces when they see their hard work result in tiny sprouts and then fully grown crops.  Of course, gardening, as part art and science, doesn’t always work out the way we imagined. And when a crop fails or obstacles present themselves, it’s a great opportunity for us to practice problem-solving and resiliency.

Another goal of ours was to promote health – that of our students and of our earth. The students are learning sustainable gardening techniques and we’re pleased that there will be no non-organic pesticides or insecticides in our garden. Like many schools, we want our students to be good, democratic and global citizens. This requires them to also be environmentally conscious. When we don’t provide students with authentic spaces like the garden and other place-based learning journeys, we are teaching them about the environment and issues like sustainability in a vacuum, which we know is not optimal for learning. We built a school garden because as the outdoor education advocate David Sobel once wrote, If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the Earth before we ask them to save it. The logic is that love leads. Knowledge will follow love and all humans will work to protect what they love. We can’t have an environmental education curriculum that is disconnected from actual nature.

As any reader of this blog knows, I write and speak about relationships quite a bit. At Assets, we are all about relationships! Usually when we say this, we are referencing those between teacher-and-student, student-to-student, or student-to-curriculum. In this case, the relationship we are nourishing is student-to-the natural world. This school garden isn’t just about giving our students a setting to conduct hands-on work, it’s about helping students develop and deepen a relationship that will not only benefit them, but our earth and all of us.

Please take some time to enjoy other photos of our new outdoor classroom!

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With aloha,


About the Author
Ryan Masa is the K-8 Principal at Assets School in Honolulu, Hawaii


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