Surely, Gainesville City School administrators and board members are unaware of the National Wildlife Federation’s campaign to increase eco-school programs and develop schoolyard habitats throughout the United States. Enota school’s Smartville Garden models these innovative programs to educate children in nature.
Even nine years ago, Enota administrators and faculty understood that time in nature boosts not only physical and psychological health but also academic performance. A six-year study of 905 public elementary schools in Massachusetts found that third-graders reported higher scores on standardized testing in English and mathematics in schools with closer proximity to natural areas. Other research suggests that greening schools may be one of the most cost-effective ways to raise student test scores.
In today’s digital world and diminishing nature habitats, children suffer mentally and physically from “nature-deficit disorder,” a phrase coined by author Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods. When Enota principal Sally Meadors and Enota PTA envisioned the Smartville Gardens in 2007, they essentially pioneered the NWFs eco-school/schoolyard habitats movement in Gainesville. To support the schools curriculum, they developed and, for nine years have maintained the gardens with all-volunteer labor from teachers, alumni and in-kind professional services of local environmental landscape architects.
What makes Enota’s Smartville Gardens unique? A sophisticated water retention system (3,400-gallon underground cistern, 500-gallon water tower, two 1,100 gallon tanks and two infiltration ponds) to capture rainwater from the roof for watering plants and control stormwater runoff to percolate into the ground rather than overtax the city sewer system. Trees, shrubs and flowers selected specifically for texture, beauty and educational qualities coordinated with the earth science curriculum. Ecologically designed green roof of vegetation contributes to stormwater management, improved air quality, energy conservation and reduced pollution.
Students’ access to nature-enhanced education balances the virtual digital experiences of technology with hands-on experiences and awareness of physical surrounding.
Enota’s garden is a national model for the NWF campaign to increase eco-school programs and schoolyard habitats from 8,700 schools to 30,000 and expand the number of children served annually from 5 million to 20 million. Is this not encouragement enough to preserve Enota’s Smartville Garden and revise the architectural design of the proposed new building?
Many educators and parents will be astounded to learn that Gainesville City Schools has not explored the vast body of knowledge on the value of environmental education before they destroy, rather than incorporate or even expand, nature into the architectural design.
Executive Director, The Redbud Project, Gainesville