Primary School News

Year 3 garden: a growing ecosystem in an urban environment

Sitao, talong, malunggay, alugbati; these are just some of the Tagalog names of native Filipino vegetables that Year 3 students at the British School Manila have been using on a day-to-day basis, while out caring for and tending to the plants in our bio-intensive garden.

Bio-Intensive gardening is a low cost and sustainable method of growing plants that uses locally available materials, organic fertilisers and flood resistant methods to grow crops in surprisingly small areas. Since 2018, Year 3 students have been learning how to grow and care for plants, learning about their function and nutritional benefits, as well as taking a regular active role in taking care of the environment.

As part of our Plants and Sustainability unit, we developed a partnership with Fostering Education and Environment for Development, (FEED), who assisted us with the initial setup of our garden and who also provided the opportunity for Year 3 students to plant trees in Siniloan, a forest area prone to illegal logging, now turned into a rehabilitated native forest. At this very moment in time, BSM has its own living legacy happening in this forest region of the Sierra Madre mountains, with over 2000 native trees, planted by Year 3 students, establishing themselves and flourishing in this crucial national conservation area.

Every year, our learning has also grown, as has the opportunity to plan and develop our garden for the benefit of our global citizenship journey. Last year, we introduced a native species of stingless bees into the Year 3 garden, thanks to our links with FEED, who were able to arrange for us to have 4 bee colonies arrive at BSM, courtesy of Dr Cleofas R. Cervancia of the University of the Philippines Los Baños. This came about through our students learning about the impact of climate change and the changes happening to some of Earth’s natural systems, such as the process of pollination and the relationship between this and the decline of bee populations across the globe. We expanded our garden with bee friendly flowers for our native stingless bee species and they have been thriving ever since, helping demonstrate to our students the interdependent relationship between bees and flowers.

This year, we decided to take action on an idea that we’ve been talking about for a number of years; building a demo rice terrace. In February, this became a reality, thanks to our wonderful PTA generously helping fund this project! Our purpose for developing this was to promote further opportunities for global citizenship across the school and to provide students with more authentic learning experiences that give them an opportunity to learn about the cultural, economic and social aspects of growing rice, particularly in the Philippines. Previously, Year 3 students have experienced a day in the life of a rice farmer on our residential, which includes visiting the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). We saw the potential for a small scale rice terrace at school to ensure this wasn’t just a one-off experience. We look forward to giving our students the opportunity to getting a regular hands on experience of growing and looking after flood resistant rice crops in an outdoor environment, as well as building empathy for those who spend their lives growing rice, critically thinking about technologies for growing successful rice crops and for tackling issues around food security and getting more opportunities to connect with nature.

Next year, we look forward to taking a step forward in increasing our monthly crop yields in our garden to go towards some new service learning links within Manila. We’re looking into the possibility of developing an aquaponics system at school to help us grow large quantities of nutritious crops to help towards local feeding programs in poorer areas of Manila. Previously, we helped set up a sustainable garden for our previous service learning partner, Missionaries of the Poor, who are now more self sufficient thanks to the help of Year 3. This project development will allow students to begin to think and act on the issue of food security and malnutrition in local areas.

Given that we have been on lockdown since March, the current Year 3 students have mostly been concerned not about their learning, their teachers or their friends, but about what is happening to our Year 3 garden! On hearing this, we asked the students to reflect on their learning and what they have learnt from their experiences in our garden area. They have perhaps been the most active year group in the garden so far, so naturally we got plenty of detailed responses demonstrating that it’s been a key part of their learning this year. Here are some recent quotes from the children:

  • The Y3 garden taught me the benefits of growing rice and veggies in the garden. It was enjoyable and it taught me how to stay healthy by consuming more vegetables at mealtime. It also taught me that plants give off oxygen that we need to breathe. It purifies the air. 
  • I miss the Y3 garden because it is peaceful and I like watering it! I also like trying the food we grow because it makes me try lots more food and it surprises me!
  • I am greatly missing our garden, the trees, flowers, vegetables and the fruits if there is anything our garden taught me is that we are not the only things on this planet and that plants are living too, but sadly because of are technology plant life all over planet Earth is vanishing, not just plants but all different species of animals are endangered and they are swiftly becoming extinct! This is a bigger problem than you think as plants give us oxygen which is what we breathe in and what plants breathe out! Us humans breathe what they breathe in, so we need trees and trees need us!
  • I miss the year 3 garden because I love watering plants and  harvesting and it’s fun watching the plants grow taller. I miss them all, especially  the unstingable bees! They are so adorable and cute!
  • The Year 3 garden has made me keep planting more and how to take care of them and how to appreciate nature, like the same way every year me and my family together with all jewish people go to a fun farm to celebrate Tu B’Shevat, a jewish holiday which celebrate plants/tree holiday.
  • I miss our Y3  garden because I loved putting seeds in the rice terrace and harvesting the eggplant lettuce and okra. I wonder who is taking care of the garden?

It’s heartening to know that all the hard work in researching and developing this over the years is evident in what the children have taken from their experiences in Year 3 and we look forward to continuing to expand our garden area in a meaningful and educational way. With the help of the amazing BSM gardening team, we look forward to getting back out in the garden next school year.

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