School Gardens & Social Capital

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Schools are inextricably tied to their surroundings, making it reasonable to assume that healthy communities and healthy schools go hand in hand. Schools in low-income communities face a number of challenges on the road to securing the resources students need to be successful, and can benefit from community partnerships intended to reach shared goals. No single action can solve the problems of poverty, insufficient health care, and unstable living conditions, but collaborative efforts may act as a tool for building social capital and addressing some of the difficulties associated with struggling communities.

school gardens may help students and communities address some of the issues they struggle with in growing healthy learning environments.

School gardens are becoming increasingly popular in urban areas. Advocates see these gardens as a learning opportunity for students, a source of sustenance for neighbors, and a means of building social capital that can serve as a catalyst to developing strong, unified communities capable of generating greater social supports. Detractors believe that school gardens divert limited resources away from more important needs such as instructional time, supplies, and facilities maintenance while perpetuating racial and ethnic stereotypes.

Schools are inextricably tied to their surroundings, making it reasonable to assume that healthy communities and healthy schools go hand in hand. Schools in low-income communities face a number of challenges on the road to securing the resources students need to be successful, and may benefit from community partnership intended to reach shared goals. No single action can solve the problems of poverty, insufficient health care, and unstable living conditions, but school gardens may help students and communities address some of the issues they struggle with in growing healthy learning environments. This paper will examine the relationship between school gardens and social capital development in struggling areas.

Defining Social Capital

Robert Putnam defines social capital as “features of social life—networks, norms, and trust—that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives” (1995, p. 664-665). In his book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Putnam contends that “the core idea of social capital is that social networks have value…social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups” and refers to social capital as “connections among individuals” (2000, p. 18-19). Community, sense of place and belonging, social networks, trusts and reciprocity are pivotal components of social capital, and allow individuals to develop a sense of agency and empowerment. Warwick Smith asserts that “low reserves of social capital engender socially impoverished communities” (1998, p. 8), and describes social capital as a critical element in achieving community-wide goals.

Unfortunately, social capital may be deficient in the communities where it is most needed. Neighborhoods struggling under the weight of poverty, limited access to health care and nutrition, and failing schools are those most likely to suffer from a lack of social capital. This deficiency perpetuates a cycle of marginalization that makes it challenging for community members to come together to work toward shared goals and gain access to essential social supports. Developing social capital where neighbors feel isolated and disenfranchised in difficult, but some researchers see this as an important step in address the needs of struggling communities (Altschuler, 2004).

Course Texts, Social Supports, & Schools

Many writers in the field of education stress the importance of social capital and community stability in creating positive and productive learning opportunities for children. Linda Darling-Hammond is among the authors outlining the role of social capital in schooling....
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