MAY 2001

 

MAY-JUNE 2001 FULL ISSUE

AMAZING THINGS HAPPEN WHEN SCHOOLS TEACH NATURE’S COURSE

By PAUL KOBERSTEIN

BERKELEY, California - On a recent warm spring day, a group of 20 students arrive for class in the garden behind the Martin Luther King Jr. school.  It's 11 a.m., and after a few minutes prep from teacher Kelsey Siegel, the kids take on assignments for digging, composting, weeding and plucking. Some go to work among the medicinal and culinary herbs. Others weed the chard, lettuce, potatoes and fava beans, or look for raspberries, the most popular thing in the garden. It's ok. The teachers encourage foraging.

Meanwhile, over at the compost bin, the kids have found a skunk. All visitors, even the random skunk, are welcome at King Middle School, where teachers are eager to  talk about achievement results that lead the state of California. They've developed a curriculum so innovative it's been touted as a key for reforming education everywhere. And that's to say nothing of its potential benefits to the planet.  

The seeds of change at King School were planted seven years ago, in the mind  of a famous neighbor, Alice Waters, owner and chef of the world-renowned Berkeley  restaurant, Chez Panisse. Waters recalls that even in 1994, King School looked almost abandoned. "I would see the graffiti on the windows and the burnt-out grass, and I would wonder what had happened,"  she says. "Who was using this school? Who was taking care of it?"

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Paul Koberstein