Eco-productive action at the Jesús Terceros School

Faced with the disastrous pollution of Cochabamba’s main waterway, the Rocha River, which suffers daily from the dumping of the city’s untreated wastewater, the residents from the neighborhood of San Pedro Magisterio, the Jesús Terceros Public School, and the Fundación Abril decided to take action. Our goal was clear: begin to restore the Rocha River through an ecological and agricultural based education at the Jesús Terceros Public School with the implementation of school gardens and neighborhood-managed wastewater treatment.

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One of the key elements of this project has been the construction of school gardens, with the intention of creating a new space for learning outside the classroom that pushes students to reflect on the reality of the environmental at local, national and global levels. The work, which is ongoing, has been both challenging and enriching.

On the technical side, we’ve built vertical gardens and used recycled materials for growing plants with the first and second grade students; ‘square-foot’ gardens and water pots with the third and forth grade students; and bio-intensive gardens with the fifth and sixed grade students – reclaiming land along the river’s edge that had long been used as an illegal garbage dump! And finally, we started a strawberry patch with the seventh graders.

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Each garden has involved a great deal of work, learning, and reflection. The children have learned different methods of organic urban agriculture and they’ve been able to consume their own vegetables, fostering eating healthy habits, strengthening food sovereignty, and raising their environmental awareness.

On the theoretical side, to make the educational experience of school gardens more holistic, we held exclusive workshops for teachers. Our goal was to provide tools for lesson planning, instruction methods, and content linking the work in the gardens to the classroom and classroom to the work to the garden. These workshops also generated debate and reflection on the terrible environmental problems facing the city of Cochabamba. In the end, they established a solid team of teachers who use the garden everyday as an educational tool, and they established an ongoing debate about teachers’ role as educators and in contributing to much broader positive changes in the school and the society.

Working with and learning from the soil, as well as the accomplishments and results that have been achieved, has even motivated parents and teachers to transform the Jesús Terceros School into a technical training school, which will give the students an opportunity to graduate from high school with a vocational diploma in organic agriculture and nutrition. This has meant an administrative transformation which merged two previously separate elementary schools, expanded the grade levels to eventually include all of high school, and increased the number of students from 350 in 2015 to 700 in 2016.

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To strengthen the project and increase its sustainability, we’ve expanded the agro-ecological infrastructure by building a greenhouse, a rainwater harvesting tank, 16 composting bins, and a mobile garbage/recycling collection system. The expanded infrastructure has provided continuity for the project and contributed to a sustainable crop production cycle and the deepening of the technical and pedagogical training of students over the long term.

In front of the water crisis and the rapid urbanization of the city of Cochabamba, school gardens and treatment of wastewater in the Rocha River, have become an alternative community, a political micro daily transformation that brings respect and care for the environment, here and now, critically and with purpose. We have transformed the cement in gardens, garbage in vegetables, individuality in community, traditional education in alternative education, doubt transformed into joy, we are transforming into an ecological and productive community.

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