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  • Author or Editor: Alan McDaniel x
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In Spring 1995, a survey was conducted on horticulture/gardening in Virginia kindergarten through fifth and sixth grades (K–5/6). Ten questionnaires and cover letters were sent to each of 100 randomly chosen elementary schools of the 1143 elementary schools representing ≈45,000 teachers throughout Virginia. Based on a 33.7% response rate from a self-selected group of K–5/6 teachers in Virginia, there is a relatively high level of interest (87.5% of respondents were interested) regarding using horticulture/gardening in the classroom. To facilitate incorporating horticulture into the curriculum for the widest number of teachers, teaching packets containing horticulture-based lesson plans, activity ideas, posters, and AV materials should be prepared. However, it is likely that using these prepared resources alone will result in a minimum amount of integration of horticulture/gardening in the classroom. Materials should be presented to interested teachers at a local class or in-service where they can be reviewed and teachers are able to address any concerns or needs they may have. A follow-up outreach should be done in the form of monthly newsletters: one for the teachers containing new ideas on using horticulture in the classroom and one for students with horticulture-based activities and information. Additionally, the need for preservice undergraduate and postservice graduate level horticulture courses offered by Virginia Tech for teachers should be explored.

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A survey of Virginia Master Gardeners (N = 188) indicates that answering individual questions and providing educational programs designed to change individuals' behavior were equally important and ranked as number 1 priority for volunteer activity. In terms of training and management, local training programs had the highest importance ranking, with participation in local associations ranking second in importance. Social activities had the lowest importance. Annual training was viewed as primarily the agents' responsibility. However, daily man-agement, record keeping, and related activities were viewed as Master Gardener responsibilities in cooperation with agents.

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Master Gardeners (MGs) have proven to be effective judges for vocational horticulture student demonstrations of industry skills in 1996 Virginia and National FFA competitions. In a survey, the MG judges indicated a wide variety of backgrounds, with many being first-year MGs having no prior experience in judging or youth programs. Overall, they rated the student performance as better than expected and their own judging standard as neither lenient nor rigorous. Training is a critical part of their effectiveness as judges, and it was found that multiple formats are needed. Overall, most rated judging the FFA events as a very appropriate match to the MG educational goals, and there was a 100% affirmative response to the questions would they accept an invitation to judge again and would they encourage other MGs to volunteer as judges for FFA horticulture events.

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To determine if and how plant materials were used in Virginia elementary school curricula, a survey was conducted on horticulture or gardening in elementary [Kindergarten-sixth grade (K-6)] education. To do this, 10 questionnaires and cover letters were sent to each of 100 randomly chosen elementary schools throughout Virginia. Based on a 34% response rate from a self-selected group of K-6 teachers, there was a relatively high level of interest (88%) regarding using horticulture or gardening in the classroom. A major goal of this survey was to determine what would encourage or facilitate incorporating horticulture or gardening into the curriculum.

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Gardening is increasing in use as the focus of interdisciplinary teaching units in the elementary school curriculum and as a stratagem for student therapeutic, recreational, and social experiences. Elementary school teachers, identified as experienced in using gardening as a teaching tool, were surveyed and interviewed to determine successful strategies for integration of gardening into elementary school curricula. The most important factors determined by these teachers for the successful use of gardening in the curriculum were 1) student and faculty ownership or commitment to integrating gardening in their curriculum, 2) availability of physical resources, and 3) faculty knowledge and skill in the application of gardening to enhance an interdisciplinary curriculum. Educators who incorporate school gardening into their curriculum report that school gardening is a somewhat successful (35.2%) or very successful (60.6%) teaching tool that enhances the learning of their students. Most (92%) teachers surveyed requested additional school gardening education for themselves.

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Recently there has been an increased interest in the role of plants in human well-being and in the general public's perception of the value of plants. Knowing the nature and extent of the value of plants to people can affect the way plants are used in public and private landscapes, the amount of money invested in the establishment and maintenance of plants, and the satisfaction derived from the plantings. In conjunction with the annual National Gardening Association consumer market study, a question was asked to determine if observations from previous, limited studies were applicable to a wide range of American households.

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Virginia Cooperative Extension's (VCE) Master Gardener volunteer program in available in 73 of 102 unit offices. The unit programs are managed by MG coordinators who currently include 10 locally funded agents, eight locally funded non-agents, and 26 volunteers. In 1998, the VCE Master Gardener Coordinator Manual was developed for use by coordinators in managing the local MG program. The 12-unit resource book was developed cooperatively with teams of MGs, coordinators, and agents to enhance coordinators' skills. The manual was the basis of four local MG coordinator training sessions conducted in 1998. Before MG coordinator training, local coordinators were asked to complete an eight-page survey about MG program management practices used locally. In addition to basic questions about coordinator status and length of time with VCE, the survey asked about techniques used in recruitment and training; motivation, retention, and recognition; individual and local MG program evaluation; and other topics. Two months after the last training, all coordinators were asked to evaluate the usefulness of the VCE Master Gardener Coordinator Manual, which was the base text for the training. Finally, 6 months following the final training session, MG coordinators were asked to again complete the eight-page survey about management practices used locally. The results of the survey information have indicated areas in which the management of MG programs are strong and can be strengthened in order to provide enthusiastic, qualified volunteer staff to assist VCE in implementing horticultural educational programs in local communities. The results of the survey are helpful in focusing the work of the state Master Gardener coordinator to provide adequate and appropriate training and other resources for local coordinators. The results of the evaluation survey have assisted the finalization of the VCE Master Gardener Coordinator Manual, a useful resource to any state's Master Gardener program management effort.

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A national survey was conducted of teachers who use school gardening and horticulture as a teaching strategy to enhance student learning within a educational curriculum. The surveyed teachers are employed by schools that were recipients of a Youth Gardening Grant from the National Gardening Assn. in the 1994–95 and 1995–96 school years. The intent of this survey was to define the factors that are crucial to the successful implementation of school gardening into the elementary school curriculum as determined by educators who have already implemented such a program. The survey also described the characteristics of school gardening experiences at these elementary schools. Personal interviews with experienced school gardening educators in Virginia and Maryland verified survey results. Educators reported that the factors most responsible for school gardening success were a person responsible for school gardening activities, a growing site, and funding. Support of the principal and the availability of gardening equipment were also highly rated as success factors. Teachers indicated that, although these factors are important, they are not necessarily available at their individual schools. Responses also included an enormous listing of resources used by teachers to meet their school gardening needs. The survey overwhelmingly indicated that experienced educators view school gardening as a successful teaching strategy to enhance student learning. However, educators rely primarily on their personal knowledge of gardening to implement learning experiences with their students. Teachers feel that although their personal gardening knowledge is adequate, they are greatly interested in continued education in the use of school gardening and horticulture, either as in-service training, Master Gardener training, or for continuing education credit.

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