I want to brag about one of my Texas AgriLife Extension Service colleagues, Lisa Whittlesey, who has developed a highly successful outreach program—The Junior Master Gardeners (JMG). The JMG program was launched in 1999, and currently has 38 land-grant university JMG state partners, programs in all 50 states, and has reached more than a million children through direct programming. How many of us can say that about the impact of our own teaching, research, and extension programs!?
The Mission of the JMG is: “To grow good kids by igniting a passion for learning, success and service through a unique gardening education.” That is pretty important stuff—and a great opportunity for showcasing and using horticulture. We are all painfully aware of the societal problems faced in the U.S.—from losing too many young kids in elementary school who are turned off to “boring, irrelevant” science and math, to obesity and nutrition issues, to apathy, lack of volunteerism, and unwillingness to take responsibility and leadership. In a recent Associated Press piece, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan remarked that the mediocre math, science, and reading scores of our students reflect the competitive disadvantage our children face in a globally competitive, knowledge-based economy. To Duncan: "This is absolutely unfair to our children and puts our country’s long term economic prosperity absolutely at risk."
The JMG is not a panacea for all these problems. But it is a step in the right direction and a breath of fresh air. It uses the “McDonald’s Approach”: you get to the family through the kids. You need to visit their cool website to see some of the JMP impact activities for young people and opportunities for school educators.
The JMG program is supported by award-winning curricula that is aligned to state teaching standards for math, science, social studies, and language arts. Extension employees and trained volunteers provide professional development training and continuing education credits for educators that are interested in starting programs in their classrooms. The JMG program has consistently demonstrated excellence in providing youths with engaging “hands-on” learning experiences, effectively integrating science, math, and other core subjects.
JMG Partnerships and Support
The JMG program has developed strong partnerships between 4-H, local schools, community volunteers and local businesses. JMG programs typically build gardens on school grounds and lessons are taught by teachers, 4-H professionals and/or Master Gardner volunteers. The youth participants and community volunteers plan, build, grow, maintain, and sustain the gardens and nourish themselves and the community with the produce grown. Youth participating in the program receive certification as a Junior Master Gardener while also having the opportunity to learn about careers and life skills that benefit their future. The JMG enables independent and group learning experiences, and service learning opportunities for youth.
As Lisa remarks: “ . . . the success of JMG is really because of the many land-grant university partners, local adult Master Gardener volunteers, researchers (Purdue University—Kathryn Orvis, Texas A&M—Jayne Zajicek, Chris Boleman, Texas State—Tina Waliczek, and other university research faculty and graduate students including Cindy Klemmer, Carolyn Robinson, Leanna Smith) to document the JMG impact, and teachers and kids at the local level that have taken the program and run with it! The grant- and fee-based programming to support the JMG program is in excess of $3.8 million. Financial support and programmatic collaboration comes from private foundation grants, fee-based programs, and gifts from the Meadows Foundation, Houston Endowment, and several USDA-funded grant projects. Programmatic collaborations include the USDA People’s Garden Consortium, National Wildlife Foundation, Peace Corps, Amigos de los Americas, Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, Center for Disease Control, American Horticulture Society, National Gardening Association, arboretum and botanical gardens, children’s museums, numerous local, civic and faith-based organizations to support implementation of local JMG programs.
While the program has had a successful impact on large numbers of youths, youth educators also expressed a desire to extend programming to Spanish-speaking audiences within Texas and beyond. Lisa was involved with other AgriLife Extension colleagues (Randy Seagraves, Bill Watson and Melissa Smith) in developing the JMG curriculum and education materials, including media kits and video modules into Spanish. The extended program delivery has occurred not only in Texas, but also across the nation to Spanish-speaking youths and those who educate them. Some 53% of the children in the JMG program are from ethnic minorities, a majority of which are Hispanic; e.g., English and Spanish JMG programming now reaches over 10,000 children annually in Bexas County (San Antonio, Texas).
JMG Has Gone International
The translated JMG curriculum is also being expanded into three Central American countries: Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica. This has also led to the creation of a new course at Texas A&M, Global Leaders in Agriculture (Hort 389—co-taught by Leo Lombardini ) to empower college students to teach Spanish-speaking youths and adults in Latin America. There are also established JMG programs in Mexico, Korea, and India. The program in Korea has developed to include a partnership with the Gweocheon National Science Museum and the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
The End of a Tough Decade
This has been an incredibly challenging decade for the economy, Horticulture and the Land Grant system—it is also a time for refocusing on new opportunities. While the playing field has changed, we are still very fortunate. I want to wish everyone a joyous holiday season and prosperous 2011. And remember to get with Santa Claus and start planning for the ASHS Annual Conference on the Big Island of Hawaii: Hilton Waikoloa Village, Waikoloa, 25–28 Sept. 2011. It will be a great Family experience, awesome location—and the rates are low!
Keep in Touch!
Written by ASHS President Fred T. Davies, this article appears in the December 2010 ASHS Newsletter.