The Badger Bioneer Spirit

The past month was full of holiday spirit and generosity, but the highlight for Growing Food and Sustainability was receiving a Metcalfe’s School Garden Leader Award at the Badger Bioneers Conference!   The award included a gift of $1,000 for the organization and also allowed program leaders Gabrielle and Natalie to attend the two-day conference free of charge.

1 Natalie and Gabrielle with their check! The other winners of the award were Mary Michaud of Van Hise Elementary in Madison and Cheryl Stout of Oregon Middle School.

The conference offered panels, presentations, and speeches on the topics of climate, health, energy, and economy. The panels and discussions were based around three tracks of business, education, and civic engagement, so we were able to focus on education’s role within the larger theme of sustainability. It was an incredible opportunity to network with other local leaders working in sustainable, garden-based education and be inspired by all that they are doing. There was one recurring message throughout the conference that really stood out to us. Even though the conference was geared largely to educators, business executives, and civic leaders, there was a consistent recognition and credit given to youth.

One panel we attended was the Sustainable Schools Showcase, which featured Mary Bohning, a teacher at Harborside Academy in Kenosha, Dave Ropa, a teacher at Spring Harbor Environmental Magnet Middle School in Madison, and Jim Mathews, a teacher at Clark Street Community School, one of our local partners. They all stressed the importance of student leadership within the work they are doing at their schools and two of the schools even brought students along to talk about how experiential, outdoor education benefited them.

2This is a three-dimensional rendering of the greenhouse currently being constructed at Spring Harbor Middle School. The students will be helping to build the structure throughout the spring.

We also attended a speech given by Samuel Dennis, a professor at UW-Madison, called Kids are (not) the Problem.  In his presentation he described projects he worked on with at-risk communities, where youth were often blamed for the community’s crime and safety challenges.  His three overarching principles were:

  • Kids are experts in their own lives and they need to be consulted.
  • Kids are capable.
  • Kids can be change agents.

We loved his message and are hoping to talk with him about the work we’re doing with high school students in Middleton.  We’ve had some challenges motivating and engaging high school students, and we think that Sam’s approach could help us create an exciting new project based on the ideas and visions of the students themselves.  We’ll let you know how it goes in future blog posts!

Natalie and Gabrielle

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