Pupils busy transforming playgrounds

Avery long time ago, schoolyards used to be gardens, with tall trees shading the children playing during their breaks. Now the Education Ministry has completed a study to be published shortly, titled «School Garden,» which could serve as a handbook on how to bring back real gardens to schoolyards. The idea for the study came from the Evonymos Ecological Library, the Athens Agricultural University and the Organization for Ways of Interpreting the Environment, all of which carried out the project within a European Union program on environmental education, managed by the Education Ministry. 170 years ago According to the philosophy behind the project, children who plant a flowering shrub with their own hands will, as adults, find it hard not to plant a tree in some part of their own yard. In times past, making gardens in schools was part of school life. A law passed in 1835 stated that municipalities were to be granted up to 1.5 hectares for a school and surrounding garden and, if that was not possible, to make land available from properties of monasteries that had closed down. A circular issued in 1848 by the Interior Ministry said that «every municipality must have a garden or arable land of 0.2 hectares alongside its primary school for cultivation by the teacher.» In 1913, then national economy minister Andreas Michalakopoulos asked the country’s prefects to earmark «small credits in their municipal budgets for expenditure on school gardens.» The March 1901 issue of Agricultural News said that in the village of Pitsa, in Corinth, the primary school teacher V.M. Dokas and his pupils managed to set up an orchard of 10,000 mulberry trees, 500 almond trees and 1,000 cypress trees, many of which were planted along roads and in the gardens of homes. Visionary teachers These days just a brief glance around Athens schoolyards will reveal quite a different story. Wherever teachers themselves are motivated, the children have done wonders for their schoolyards, with the support of the local municipal councils, which provide horticulturalists, plants and tools. The Agricultural University also helps, as do state plant nurseries, providing plants either for free or at low prices. Environmental education programs for schools are funded by the European Union and the Education Ministry. The Aegean University administers these programs and provides schools with the sum of 2,000 euros (not all of which is used for the garden). Parents’ associations also provide assistance. «Looking after a garden gives pupils a pleasant escape from the curriculum and an alternative way of having fun instead of going to the local cafe,» said Marianna Tseberlidou, head of environmental education at the 3rd Secondary Education Department of Athens. «Greenery in schools cultivates the children’s sense of aesthetics and puts a more human face on the concrete school buildings – where our children spend half their time, and then we wonder why they are so aggressive,» she added. Schools’s efforts Pupils at the 2nd Peristeri Technical Professional High School have planted 30 small olive trees and 20 cypress trees and are about to continue with fruit trees so as to observe the changes with the seasons. The 2nd Petroupolis Junior High School pupils baked bread with wheat they had sown in their schoolyard, which is also planted with aromatic plants and herbs which they use to make infusions for their environmental science lessons. The school terrace at the 5th Nikaia Junior High School has been transformed into a roof garden with trees and shrubs in planters. They have asked that the concrete in the schoolyard be broken up so they can plant flowerbeds. Lettuce and tomatoes are harvested at the Aegaleo Special Vocational School (EEEK), where pupils also have the use of an old greenhouse made available by the local municipality. The 3rd Gerakas Kindergarten has its own vegetable garden and walnut trees. The 14th Peristeri Senior High School pupils set up a pergola in their yard and have covered it with bougainvillea. Someone has stolen the planters they had put in their yard, but they hope to replace them soon.