Using the late philanthropist's own tools, children at a Tucson elementary school make an emotional connection to learning and discovery, aided by a grant from the UA's Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice.
Along a courtyard wall in Tucson’s Manzo Elementary School, shovels, digging bars, rakes and live traps stand ready. Seven-year-old Kyana Villa selects a trowel, worn and re-welded from years of use, and heads to the compost pile to dig for worms — a tasty snack for the school’s chickens.
The garden tools, once owned by the late philanthropist and accomplished gardener Agnese Nelms Haury, found a home in Manzo’s garden through the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice, which celebrated its first anniversary in September.
"The legacy of Mrs. Haury lives on in a very tangible way at Manzo Elementary," said Moses Thompson, a program coordinator with the Community School Garden Program, which is housed in the University of Arizona’s School of Geography and Development. As part of the program, teachers and UA interns take the classroom into the garden, where students explore ecology, soil science, conservation, art and photography; gain critical thinking skills; conduct real-world research; and plant, harvest and sell food they produce.
"It’s an emotional connection to learning," Thompson said. "The work that the students do is real, producing food and feeding people. Teaching them to use the tools, and then trusting them to do so, really affects their self-concept. They see themselves as leaders, as responsible, as scientists."
Kyana’s older sister Kyesha, 10, who has been a spokesperson for the Manzo garden at public events, agrees.
"It makes me feel like, wow, we really made this?" she said. "If you put your mind to it, you can do anything."
As the girls walk through the garden and greenhouse, they point out cilantro, marigolds, carrots, corn and even tilapia.
"Gardening was something that was special to Mrs. Haury, and that lives on with this group of students," Thompson said. "They connect with her."
Inspiring Science and Collaboration
During her life, Haury supported a wide range of people, organizations and causes in the environment, social justice and the Southwest.
"Mrs. Haury was a lifelong supporter of human rights, education and research. Her legacy was intended to have significant, international impact," said Mary Grier, a trustee of Haury’s estate. "The University of Arizona, one of the nation’s finest public universities, offered an ideal platform for an innovative, far-ranging and impactful program that will cross diverse disciplines and promote broader engagement between the University and the community."
In addition to the donation of Haury’s personal tools, Manzo Elementary received funding from the Haury program to expand its mini Landscape Evolution Observatory, or LEO, project to three other schools across Tucson.
Mini LEO is a diminutive version of the LEO experiment at Biosphere 2, where three identical hillslopes, each 100 feet long and 40 feet wide and filled with the volcanic soil tephra, have been built to help with an understanding of how ecosystems will respond to climate change. Back in the classroom, students use smaller, perfectly scaled versions of LEO to test which seeds will germinate and survive in the inhospitable soil — and then report their results back to Biosphere 2.
"These are kids from a community that’s underrepresented in higher education, a group that feels the effects of climate change a little more acutely, and they have the opportunity to participate in big climate science," Thompson said. "They become the experts."
Looking Ahead to Solutions
This fall, the Haury program is encouraging teams of UA faculty and community groups to apply for grants and fellowships that contribute to socially just solutions to environmental challenges. Applications are due Oct. 30 and awards start in January 2016.
"The incredible generosity of Mrs. Haury makes transformative experiences possible for students, communities and the UA,” said Anna Spitz, Haury program director. "After a marvelous first year of accomplishment, we’re excited to launch our second year with competitive grants that extend Mrs. Haury’s legacy of making a difference to people and the world."
Witten by: Paulina Jenney, UA Institute of the Environment, October 22, 2015
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