Volunteers and students work together in the learning garden.
More than 100 Wells Fargo volunteers helped students install a REAL Schools Garden in Fort Worth, Texas.
Photo Credit: Anne Oberlander

If you build it, they will learn

Wells Fargo volunteers have been teaming up with REAL School Gardens to build outdoor education spaces for low-income elementary schools in Texas.

May 4, 2017

Not many nonprofit organizations list “get your hands dirty” as one of its core values. But for REAL School Gardens, that’s exactly what it’s all about.

Wells Fargo volunteers helped install the learning garden in one day. (2 minutes)
Credit: Anne Oberlander

By building a “learning garden” and developing a customized, standards-based curriculum, REAL School Gardens helps educators use their new outdoor classroom to bring to life subjects in math and science in a unique, hands-on learning experience.

Courtney Davis, a first grade teacher at John Quincy Adams Elementary School in Dallas, has used her school’s garden as a teaching tool for a variety of lessons with her students.

“We’ve done the five senses in the garden, we’ve done measurement in the garden, and we’ve learned about living and non-living in the garden,” said Davis. “It’s been a great opportunity for kids to have hands-on experience and it helps keep them engaged in the lesson.”

Students stand inside their learning garden.
Watch a video to see the progress of the Dallas school garden that Wells Fargo volunteers installed in 2015. (90 seconds)
Photo Credit: Anne Oberlander

Since 2003, the organization has built more than 100 learning gardens at low-income elementary schools throughout Texas. It then implements a multiyear training program on how to best use the garden as a teaching tool, based on each school’s unique design.

According to the organization, schools with gardens have seen standardized test score pass rates increase by 12-15 percent.

The gardens also have a number of immeasurable outcomes, “from the teacher who can truly engage her students in a meaningful way, to the student who maybe doesn’t get some of the teaching when it’s in the classroom, but out here (in the garden), boom, a light bulb comes on — and they know what it means because they can see it, touch it and feel it,” said Lannie McClelen, senior project manager for REAL School Gardens.

Engaging the head, hands, and heart

After volunteering with REAL School Gardens in 2015 to build the learning garden at John Quincy Adams Elementary School, Wells Fargo team members in Texas were back at it in April 2017. This time, 120 Wells Fargo volunteers helped build a new outdoor classroom at Diamond Hill Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas. (Watch the 2-minute video above to see the garden “grow.”)

“Working with REAL School Gardens is one of our most popular volunteer projects,” said Sherry Key, Wells Fargo community affairs manager for Texas and New Mexico. “Our team members love to come out and work together to help improve the school.”

Volunteers stand together at the learning garden in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
"Big Dig" projects are favorites among volunteers in the Dallas–Fort Worth area.
Photo Credit: Jill Johnson Photo

Diamond Hill’s principal, Marlyn Martinez, foresees her school’s new garden having an immediate impact on her teachers and students, as well as the local community.

“We have a list of ideas that we want to accomplish through the garden,” said Martinez. “Everything from our counselors using it to help our students emotionally … to setting goals for the kids to know that they’re going to be part of a bigger vision.”

Wells Fargo has provided more than $200,000 in funding to REAL School Gardens since 2011, but it’s the hands-on effort to help local schools build their gardens that continues to bring the company’s volunteers out in droves for the “Big Dig.”

“We know that the students are more engaged and academics are improved in the schools where there is a REAL School Gardens outdoor garden project,” Key said. “I just think it’s one of the greatest things we do to help our community.”

Contributors: Matt Wadley
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