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Nestled on Venice Boulevard, hiding in plain sight, is a sanctuary of natural wonder on the Venice High School grounds. Once filled with debris and rusty cans, overgrown with weeds and a magnet for vandals, the 60,000 square-foot Learning Garden is now an outdoor haven of hands-on learning for high school students and a pocket of green in Los Angeles’ urban jungle.
Teaching Science To Kinesthetic Learners
Launched in 2001, the Learning Garden is a place where students and educators breathe life into science lessons with a pick and hoe rather than a textbook and laptop. Founded by nature-loving philanthropists, Julie Mann, David Crow and current Garden Master David King, The Learning Garden relies heavily on ancillary private funding and community support to thrive.
Within the garden’s scented confines, students gain hands-on horticultural training, learn earth pharmacology and take organic gardening lessons. Through the garden, students are given access to health-related classes like Tai Chi, QiGong and natural food cooking. They learn about medicinal plant life, the local flora and fauna and are provided tactile opportunities to delve into science lessons and, for many, life-changing lessons as well.
Learning To Live In Nature
Respect for the environment is made relevant in a new way to many kids whose opportunities are limited. Many of them do not get the chance to interface with plants, the soil and insect life. All of that changes with the Learning Garden.
The accomplishments felt through growing plants and crops and connecting with living things is fulfilling and even joyful for both the students and the faculty.
A Community Driven Labor Of Love
The school shares the space with multiple local groups, organizations and community volunteers. For instance, students from Yo San University of Traditional Chinese Medicine continually support the development of a Chinese medicinal herb garden on site while the UCLA Horticulture Department teaches its extension program. Students from Emperor’s College of Traditional Chinese Medicine have also contributed to the development of an herbal database, used extensively by the school.
A place of solace within the city, the garden holds special events open to students, faculty and the community-at-large. Held on a weekly basis every Friday afternoon is the garden’s popular pot luck lunches where all that’s required is a knife and fork, your own plate and a dish to share.
The garden’s bounty and the lessons learned about organic food are enjoyed by all, as is the good conversation. Film documentaries about gardening and natural living are shown on a regular basis and the Winter and Summer Solstices are celebrated as well.
A Place Of Healing
For students, the garden isn’t just a place of learning; it is also about healing and loving as well. Kids from broken or poor families are able to come here, be part of a community and breathe in clean air and quiet for a few hours each week. Within the garden, learning comes naturally, as does respect for nature, the community, the school and oneself.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.