Dubai schools have a ‘green’ approach to healthier, happier students

Published January 20th, 2016 - 09:05 GMT

Why buy tomatoes and lettuce for your child's lunchbox sandwich from the supermarket, when he can grow it in his school garden? There is nothing more satisfying than growing your own crops in school.

More than 25 per cent of Dubai's private schools grow food, according to new statistics released by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) on Monday. Which means a total of 45 schools in Dubai are growing their own school garden.

Even though setting up a school garden can be a daunting task, given the weather conditions in the country, more and more schools in Dubai are now growing their little patch of garden vegetables, herbs, and fruits that are being dutifully watered and tended to by school students, teachers, and parents. Teachers and school authorities stated that with this trend of growing their own fruits and vegetables, children are now forming a more positive relationship towards vegetables and healthy food.

Depending on the school, gardening initiatives are either extra-curricular programmes or fully integrated with the curriculum through science and entrepreneurship. Many initiatives are student-led in Dubai schools. Gardening initiatives involve students of all school grades.

Some of the Dubai schools that have urban gardening projects are GEMS Our Own Indian School (Al Quoz); GEMS Our Own English High School (Al Warqa); Horizon International School; Dubai Modern Education School; Arab Unity School; The Indian High School; Kings Dubai; and the Dubai British School (Jumeirah Park) among others.

Take 4-year-old Harry Reynolds for example. A student of the Dubai British Foundation, a Taleem School in Emirates Hills, Dubai, watering the little patch of tomato, lettuce and mint garden is probably his favourite time of the day. Harry's mother Estelle Reynolds said there has definitely been a very positive change in her son's attitude towards vegetables and home-grown food.

"He comes to water the plants every afternoon after school. There are tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, mint, thyme, parsley, and several other herbs and vegetables in the garden," she said. The vegetable patch is also home to a scarecrow that was handmade by the parents and the students of the school.

Principal of the Dubai British Foundation, Sue Carpenter said: "Many of the children who live in Dubai don't have that experience where they can grow their own food, given to the weather conditions of the country." Carpenter stated that when children grow their own food, they develop a healthy relationship with it and do not shy away from eating healthy food, as well. "The students make mint-lemonade, use the tomatoes for sandwiches, and the extra produce is taken home by the students."

Other students Yveya Allsworth-Sims (4) and Sara Parkanyi (4), both students of the same school stated that growing their own food is 'exciting and engaging'. "Yveya personally loves the mint leaves. I've noticed a considerable change in her behaviour towards food since the launch of the programme in school, that was in November, said Yveya's mother Zara Allsworth-Sims.

Mouza Al Suwaidi, Chief of Engagement at KHDA encouraged educators to learn from each other. "Many schools in Dubai have already created their own green space and started growing fruits and vegetables successfully inside school farms. It is inspiring to see passionate teachers sending a positive message to students and parents. Many of these learners are seeing food grow right in front of them for the first time."

Dr Abdulla Al Karam, Chairman of the Board of Directors and Director-General of KHDA stated that urban gardening is something children can associate with and it "brings out the best in a child."

Green Bronx machine

Inspiring school students and parents to take up the challenge of growing their own food in Dubai, Stephen Ritz, an expert on urban gardening from Bronx, New York, spoke to students and teachers at the 'What Works' event hosted by KHDA. Ritz revolutionised education in Bronx as he paid close attention to the education of students who could not afford three square meals.

"Children should not have to leave their neighbourhood to live, learn and earn in a better way. In the back of my classroom, something is always growing. In order to be well read, you have to be well fed," said Ritz. He is known for having transformed his Bronx classrooms into a thriving vertical garden.

Ritz shared his journey from being an ordinary schoolteacher to an advocate for healthier schools . "It all started with seeds which transformed into farms. We ended up creating the first edible wall in New York City with the help of school students and people started taking notice. When students changed ordinary classrooms into green spaces, there was no looking back."

Now his students have installed over 100 gardens in New York City alone. Since the launch of the programme, daily attendance went up from 40 per cent to 93 per cent in schools. He stated that there is massive potential in Dubai for indoor gardens.

By Dhanusha Gokulan


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