Dougherty Afterschool Program Combines Gardening and Engineering Skills


March 13, 2018

Students get hands on experience building a waterway in their Dougherty community garden. Plus they learn valuable lessons in science, engineering and more. It's all a part of Mr. John Price's "Life Science in the Garden" course–offered in DPIE's Afterschool Program.

John Price Portrait

The DPIE Afterschool course “Life Science in the Garden” was designed to blend engineering concepts while putting one’s hands into the dirt. The concept was defined by its instructor Dougherty Elementary fourth grade teacher, John Price. Subsequent to attaining his B.S. in Recreation Administration from CSU Chico, Mr. Price traveled across the country then around the globe. Part of his journey landed him in Japan where he taught English. It was this experience that led him into a teaching career. Upon completing a teaching program at CSU Hayward, he began his new profession at Dougherty Elementary 14 years ago. Shortly after starting, he was determined to develop a gardening space – a project that has grown every year thanks to the support of the students, staff and the community. After a brief bit of hail hit last Thursday, a sturdy group of third to fifth graders made it out to the garden. While providing direction to his students, this period allowed us to also visit with John. He shared some of his observations. 

Students Collect Rocks in Garden

Students collect rocks for building the new water feature. They also researched and voted to help decide on the final design.

DPIE: In this current winter session, you are having your students devise a “water feature” to add to the garden. Articulate how you encouraged the group to collaborate and ultimately design this feature.

John Price: “I opened the class with sharing that healthy habitats and ecosystems have access to water. We discussed how the only place we had for wildlife to get water was the bird baths or the drip irrigation. We then started with identifying water sources we currently had access to in the garden and then what type of constraints we would have to deal with. Our water only comes from the spigot or from roof runoff.

Mr Price prepares materials for waterway feature

Mr. Price prepares materials for the students to construct the new water feature

Price: We then began generating ideas of what a water source or feature could look like. All ideas were accepted in the initial planning phase. Once we had a list of ideas we did a quick google image search which gave us some visuals of our ideas. Students then voted on which of the ideas they liked, while taking into account which ones could be completed in the limited number of sessions.”

DPIE: Give us a sense of the garden’s current state of development versus a dozen years ago.

Price: “Much has changed. Currently we have a greenhouse, water feature, three worm bins, four compost bins, two rain collectors, outdoor kitchen area, and more picnic benches on the way.”

Dougherty garden wide shot

DPIE: This is one of the few afterschool sessions where students can truly “get their hands dirty.” Yet, they can also see the fruits of their labor. What types of feedback do you receive from them?

Price: “The best form of feedback that I get is that the student enrolls for the next session. I have had many students enroll in numerous sessions. The students start to take an ownership of the garden and become its stewards. They often inform me when other students are messing around in the garden or when things break or need repairing.”

DPIE: One of the concepts that circulate our society is that of sustainability. How does the work invested into the garden represent this best?

Price: “As far as the garden sustaining itself, we try to reuse, recycle or reclaim as many items as we can. Many of the rocks and bricks have been collected from torn down buildings in Dublin or donated from people who are redoing their own yards. Our school grounds crew collects many of the downed leaves from our trees and puts them into our composting pile. We harvest seeds to use for planting the next season. We used the planters from the relocated EDCC building. Our compost and mulch come from the local waste provider who composts local food scraps. I take any chance I get to show the students that you don't need to buy something new when you can make it yourself or reclaim it.”

DPIE: Anything else that you would like to add?

Price: “One of the most comforting memories I have of the garden is that an instructional aide told me that her student with special needs often would use the garden as their quiet space. It helped them calm down and to take a break from the pressures of the day.” Once class ended, the students cleaned and returned their tools, removed their gloves and boots and took a moment to admire their work. DPIE would like to thank John Price for inviting us into his living garden classroom. What grows in your garden?

DPIE Afterschool Spring 2018

DPIE's Spring 2018 Afterschool courses open for enrollment. Courses and schedules are available online.