The Native American Community Academy is a charter school that opened its doors in Albuquerque in autumn of 2006. It has a triumvirate mission that includes integrated curriculum, a cultural and language context, and a wellness philosophy. This philosophy encompasses a holistic approach to each student and considers his or her intellectual, physical, social, emotional and community relationship wellness.The wellness philosophy was developed using the medicine wheel, the values of which are present in many indigenous communities. The medicine wheel has different interpretations and symbols to different tribes, however, the common idea is the wellness of the individual considers the intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and social health of the individual and their relationship to all of life.
All curriculum is devised with this wellness philosophy in mind, hence the garden project targets the physical health by promoting healthy eating and working out of doors, social and community health by making it a group project where each person has a specific job that contributes to the whole, cultural well-being (aka spiritual) in the type of garden being planted-a Three Sisters garden (corns, beans and squash). The Three Sisters, corn in particular, have sacred meaning and are used in many ceremonies. Last year's 7th graders planted a Three Sisters garden (corns, beans and squash) in four beds dug in a Zuni waffle style. The digging, watering and harvesting were done by staff.
This year's 7th graders are more involved in every step of the garden project. When they returned in mid-August, they observed the garden and learned about the way in which it was planted. Mainly, we focused our unit around squash bugs. They had to learn why they came and eventually developed a hypothesis and plan to avoid the critters when they planted in the spring. Now, spring is here and they are currently in the process of digging almost twice as many beds as last year in difficult, New Mexican clay-based soil. Our hope is through this project, the students will come one step closer to becoming self-sufficient in the most fundamental and simple way of learning to feeding themselves in a healthy way. As a college prep academy, we want them to utilize this idea of self-sufficiency and independence in all aspects of their lives. Additionally, as a community school, we also want them to learn the importance of interdependence.
As a Language Arts teacher, I could impart many thoughts, goals and anecdotes about my students, but I feel often what's missing from education is student voice. I asked the students to write their thoughts, ideas, and opinions about the garden. Here are their voices.
"The first thing we learned about the garden is what we would eventually plant and what happens in the garden about the squash bugs. Then we carefully mapped out the garden beds using scale drawings we made. We used step by step instructions to learn the measurements we needed. I think the garden is a good community project. Working in the garden is fun. Digging in the garden is hard work. My personal opinion of the garden is the garden is a good thing for the school. This project is important because it makes us a better community." Isaac Melk
"Wow, just thinking about how last year I was only a 6th grader. Our garden this year is going to be better. My thought about the whole garden is just that I can't believe we're going to make a new one. Starting fresh and clean. We have a lot of work to do this year. I think we should grow watermelon or potatoes this year. I think for NACA this garden represents our school and shows that us kids can grow a garden." Kenya Esson
"We're in the process of digging and making the garden safe so the little plants will have room to grow and survive. In order to do that we need to make the garden beds as neat as possible. In my tradition, when we plant we're supposed to nurture the corn and beans the way we would treat our family or a loved one. You go out to the garden and pray to the flowers and talk to the plants. The garden is mostly full of dirt and more dirt. But hopefully when we're done we will have a healthy, living growing garden." Isaiah Gay
"I like that we finally get to go outside. I think that we should plant watermelon, melon, and maybe even some cucumbers. It is also hard work but if our whole class pitches in and does a lot, we can get this done in no time. I know everything that we are doing because I have a garden at my house. We have squash, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, corn, beans and beduni (be-doo-nie), a giant melon-like fruit. It is so sweet and juicy you will always want it. At the garden, it is hard work, really hard. My family just plows and we get it done so quick, approximately 15 minutes. But, our school garden is a lot more special, duh, it is a school. I am positive that our garden will turn out to be a wonderful thing." Shapes Padilla
"I like the garden, but it takes so long to dig, but in the end I think it will be worth the time and effort. The garden is important to us because it helps us to know how and what to do. It also shows or teaches us what tools to use and how to use them. One example is the pitchfork. At first, I didn't know what to do with it but then I learned how to use it and now using the pitchfork is easy." Troy Pacheco
"I thought planting and making the garden was going to be easy, but I thought wrong. First, we had to dig up the hard soil so we can plant. We also had to find a spot big enough and where they would get enough light. Then we had to get topsoil and mix it with the soft dirt we dug up. It was pretty hard to dig up the dirt even when we were organized. I don't know what we're going to plant, but it will be worth all the hard work we put into it. I think this is an important skill to know because you will save money and if you have kids they will like it. There are a lot of foods and plants you can grow and some for holidays like corn and a pumpkin for Thanksgiving and Halloween. It is important for Natives because our ancestors always used to plant and we should keep that tradition alive." Ethan Deeschii'nii
"How I think it is important for Natives is, a long time ago, Native Americans had their seeds to plant corn, fruits and many various types of food and vegetables. That's how some native tribes ate and stayed so healthy. So I think it was pretty exciting to go outside and to start working hard and getting dirty. I had fun digging, mixing and putting my backbone into it." Alannah Blackgoat
"Gardens are important to natives because they grow their own food. My thoughts of the garden are it's hard growing a garden. My opinion is why don't we grow plants like watermelon. Even today Natives grow plants because that's what they did in the old days. The garden is really, really cool because our school dug it up and planted it." Josh Aragon
"In the garden we should grow different kinds of fruits and vegetables. Such as: carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, cucumbers, asparagus and other types of fruits and vegetables. In the garden we should also try growing squash again but the squash bugs might come back and eat them all again. It would also be cool if we grew watermelons. It is sort of fun making the beds but the squash bugs might come back and eat them all again. It would also be cool if we grew watermelons. It is sort of fun making the beds but it also takes muscle.