Improving lives of vulnerable children
After spending two days observing and engaging with teachers and students, it was quite clear that simply providing training in disabilities as would be included in teacher preparation programs in the US, would not be effective. Our team was prepared with materials to provide basic information on the disability categories of disabilities including: 1) physical disabilities, 2) blind & visual impairments, 3) deaf & hard of hearing, 4) intellectual disabilities, and 5) social, emotional and behavioral disorders and specific teaching techniques and strategies for each however, given our professional experience working in other developing countries, we knew that practices in the US would be ineffective in these schools.
Our garden curriculum engages all students in hands on learning and is designed for students to discover the academics embedded in planning, preparing, planting, tending and harvesting a garden.
Because approaches to including children with special needs used in western cultures and particularly the United States would be impossible to implement given a variety of factors including class size, teacher to child ratios, availability of materials and adaptive equipment, lack of specialized preparation regarding disabilities and cultural norms; an innovative approach to teaching children with disabilities was warranted. The group determined that visits to schools would help the team from Carlow University in their design of a workshop aimed to address special needs populations in inclusive settings.
Other student groups explored low-tech solutions to adapting materials and raised the funds to purchase these and other materials for the schools in Bukedea. A Fides Grant from the Sisters of Mercy provided additional funds for learning materials. The curriculum and the materials were delivered to the schools in December 2014. The principals of the schools were ecstatic to receive these resources. Additional curriculum guides and materials were delivered to the schools in June 2015.
Another generous donation allowed us to purchase 40 mango trees and 40 avocado trees that were planted in 4 schools. The teachers have created teams to care for each tree which include students from each level so that when the students graduate, the younger students will have experience in caring for the trees. We're looking forward to seeing how large the trees are when we visit in 2017!
Graduate students enrolled in Creative Inquiry at Carlow University researched garden curriculum in the United States and compared these to the conditions of the African Sub-Sahara region. Demonstration projects in developing garden curriculum within Uganda were also identified and served to inform the student researchers in designing lessons to be used in the schools. Nutritional requirements for healthy brain development based on innovations in neuroscience were also explored together with the idea of embedded academics and sustainability of school and community based garden projects. Students designed and developed 30 lessons for levels 1 -7 carefully selecting materials that were accessible and typically available in Uganda. In addition, one student painted two posters to be used in the lessons on nutrition. These were copied on to vinyl for durability and delivered to the schools.
Based on an observation in one of the schools of students making a bee hive, the team recognized that embedded in many activities are a multitude of academic learning objectives. Discovering the academic standards involved in designing, preparing, planting, tending and harvesting a garden offers a wealth of experiential learning for all students but especially for children with disabilities who learn best through a hands on approach. Math, Science, Social Studies, Geography, and Language objectives are all present in such a community-based curriculum. Therefore the team set out to devote the one day of training to focus on developing this thematic curriculum with the hopes of implementation in the schools.
Discovering academics in building & growing a garden
Students don’t learn as well when they are hungry and they all need appropriate levels of protein and other vitamins and minerals for proper brain development. Nutrition is a factor in causing intellectual disabilities in children. Therefore, it was determined that a school garden would be beneficial in providing improved nutrition to students and any revenue associated with the garden could be used to purchase school supplies and learning materials.
Gardening curriculum are taking on a prominent role in schools in the US because of the sense of accomplishment that students experience, opportunities for discovery learning and building a sense of community. The schools in Uganda benefit from these as well as creating sustenance and the potential for revenue. In addition, everyone in the community has a role to play or a job to do in planting a garden. Regardless of ability, each person contributes. This scenario has tremendously valuable consequences for the children with disabilities. They become a valued member of the school and work side-by-side with their peers to learn and practice functional academics and to develop a marketable skill of growing food.
The team of professionals that returned to the TESO Region in July 2014 consisted of a professor of special education, a graduate student in early childhood education, a curriculum designer, an artist and a magician. Over two days, the team met with officials of the Ugandan Ministry of Education, visited 4 schools in the region, discussed conditions including constraints and resources with school administrators, talked with teachers, observed in classrooms and interacted with thousands of children. These visits were invaluable to informing the team of the best approach to helping teachers develop plans for including children with disabilities into their classrooms.
The following observations guided our thinking: