The Asper Foundation Enhances Green Learning Spaces (June 2022)

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Green Learning Spaces

In 2010, The Asper Foundation approached the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) with the idea of creating gardens at schools in underprivileged neighborhoods, in Israel, to foster the physical and emotional health of local schoolchildren. In the years that followed, The Asper Foundation supported JDC in adapting this idea to the Israeli context and in developing and launching it as The Asper Edible Gardens Initiative.  It is modelled on The Edible Schoolyard, a non-profit program located on the campus of Martin Luther King Junior Middle School in Berkeley, California.

Through implementing this initiative, JDC identified a program model with substantial potential for creating change for at-risk children. The first three gardens, jointly funded by The Asper Foundation and the Jewish National Fund UK, were created in schools in Kiryat Gat, Dimona, and Ashkelon. Thanks to their resounding success, five additional gardens, funded by JNF Australia, were added – two in Beer Sheva, two in Netivot and one in Sderot.

This initiative inspired the JDC to further develop this model through a national pilot program that brought gardens to additional schools and focused on outdoor learning. In an effort to actualize this shared aspiration, JDC researched and documented the program’s success and the potential for the model to be expanded nationally in a White Paper funded by The Asper Foundation and presented to the Israeli Ministry of Education. This national initiative was named Green Learning Spaces.

In 2017, the Green Learning initiative launched with an additional 10 schools. The Asper Foundation then established the Asper Educators’ Training Program to ensure the most critical component of the program: training teachers to teach core subjects outdoors, and maximize the benefits of the school garden. The training program combines frontal instruction in theoretical material, an experiential component including hands-on workshops, visits to the field, and lectures designed to pique the teachers’ interest and imagination. The levels of training include: School-wide training for the entire teaching staff: All of the teachers in every new school joining the initiative attend this training program, comprised of 10 three-hour sessions, held at each respective school after regular hours. The training is based on three content areas: focused tools that enable teachers to implement outdoor learning, information on environmental sustainability as a subject to be taught in the gardens, and new pedagogical techniques. Lead teams at each school receive additional training in which they formulate the best strategy for promoting the initiative in that school, develop lesson plans, and discuss specific issues and challenges that have arisen.

As of 2022, 18 schools have joined the Green Learning Initiative: 18 principals, 400 teachers, and almost 4,000 children participated. Included in these are six secular public schools, four Orthodox schools and eight Arab schools. Asper Educators’ Training Program has provided over 500 hours of training for teachers in the Green Learning theory and thousands of hours have been spent learning in the edible gardens.

After receiving the results of a commissioned study evaluating the effectiveness of the program, the Israeli Ministry of Education decided to take full responsibility for the implementation of the Green Learning Initiative in 2021.

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