Dr. Matthew Fifolt, an assistant professor in the department of health care organization and policy at University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, served as first author in a descriptive case study that examined student and parent engagement with a local urban teaching farm.
[Photo: Dr. Matthew Fifolt]
The public education system in the United States faces significant challenges in understanding and addressing issues of student disengagement among high-poverty youth in urban centers. Academic and community leaders are encouraged to seek new and innovative strategies to engage students in meaningful learning experiences that promote positive affective relationships and involvement in school activities.
The purpose of this study was to explore student and parent experiences with Jones Valley Teaching Farm (JVTF), a Birmingham-based 501 (c)(3) nonprofit that sponsors evidence-based activities through school-based urban farming.
The research team used a descriptive case study method to conduct semistructured focus group interviews with 33 students and 25 parents. Findings revealed multiple ways in which school-based urban farms fostered school connectedness by promoting positive relationships, enhancing students’ social-emotional growth, and providing students with opportunities to engage in hands-on, experience-based learning.
This study provides important lessons about the value of offering highly interactive and engaging activities to underserved students and families. Students benefited greatly from positive interactions with their peers as well as JVTF staff members who served as mentors and role models. Furthermore, experiences with JVTF encouraged students to become change agents in their own community.
Other authors include staff from Jones Valley Teaching Farm, Ms. Amy Ferguson Morgan and Ms. Zoe Ripple Burgess.