- School garden programs have become increasingly popular for their diverse, positive benefits. School gardens are often promoted as a relatively low cost means to offer hands-on learning opportunities that may foster academic achievement, particularly in the sciences, however only six studies have been published on the impact of garden education programs on science achievement. Five out of six of these studies focused on elementary age students. One study has identified motivational engagement as the mechanism responsible for fostering academic success.
School gardens are more common in elementary schools. However, they may be most beneficial in a secondary school setting, when students tend to lose interest in academics and often perform poorly on national assessments of science. Thus, in this study we evaluated adolescent students at three schools with well-established garden education programs. We used pre-test and post-test measures to see how students' levels of various predictors of engagement (e.g. autonomy, competence, relatedness, and intrinsic motivation), actual engagement (in the realms of academics, science, and the garden), garden
learning, and academic achievement measures (e.g. overall grade point average and science grade point average) would change over the course of this study. We also assessed how the different realms of engagement correlated with predictors of engagement, with garden learning, and with academic achievement measures. In addition, we examined correlations among the different realms of engagement. At one of the schools, a non-gardening group participated in the study as a control group. Thus, we also compared the gain scores in predictors of engagement, engagement, and academic achievement between the control and garden group from that school.
At all three schools, academic or garden engagement significantly increased for the garden groups. Garden engagement was significantly correlated with academic engagement, science engagement, or both, at each of the three schools for post-test measures. Predictors of garden-based engagement were significantly correlated with academic and/or science engagement at each school, at least for post-test measures. These results show that gardening may have the potential to be a contributor to positive motivational changes that in turn can be related across academic domains.
The non-gardening group showed significant gains in predictors of- and engagement itself, while the gardening group either marginally declined or maintained its level. However, the non-gardening group had significantly lower pre-test scores in comparison to the gardening group, which in part accounts for their comparative significant gain. The garden group showed significant
increases in predictors of garden engagement and garden engagement itself. These results show that the garden group, comprised of at-risk students, are experiencing positive motivational benefits, which can possibly prevent further decline in their general performance.
The lack of improvement in academic achievement suggests that the full academic benefit of garden education programs has yet to be consistently reached. We recommend that researchers use a more refined evaluation test and survey, specific to the garden program at hand and include qualitative measures.