Ask the Expert: Dr. Karen Soul

What education reform initiatives are gaining the most traction across the country today?

As we consider education reform initiatives, we must look at the interaction and, sometimes, contradiction between local, state, and federal initiatives. High stakes standardized testing, a by-product of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, is currently intersecting with The Common Core State Standards Initiative, an effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The Common Core Standards apply to K-12 English language arts and mathematics; currently, 45 states, including Louisiana, have formally adopted the standards and 23 of these states, including Louisiana, have joined the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers to develop new high-stakes tests for the standards. Thus, Louisiana students may experience as many as three different sets of standardized tests between 2006 and 2014.

In the midst of such large scale initiatives, it can be easy to lose sight of local and grassroots initiatives that seek to address local school and student needs. One such initiative is school gardens. Although gardens have been around in schools in the U.S. since the early 1900’s, the past decade has seen a dramatic increase in the number of school gardens. The state of California has even called for a garden in every school, authorizing $15 million in grants to promote, develop, and sustain instructional school gardens. Often initially a response to growing childhood obesity and children’s lack of outdoor exposure, school gardens can also offer enrichment to traditional subjects, address issues of sustainability, and build community among students, parents, and community members.

In Shreveport-Bossier, Dr. Grace Peterson of the LSU Ag Center established the Valencia Youth Garden and Urban Farm located between Stoner Hill Elementary and Caddo Magnet High School where children learn to grow, harvest, and prepare healthy foods. On our own campus, Dr. Troy Messina secured funding in 2011 to start the Centenary College Community Gardens. Sometimes the most meaningful initiatives begin in your own backyard (or schoolyard).

Dr. Karen Soul is the Associate Provost of the College and Associate Professor of Education.