Happy and Learning: Environmental Education at D.C. School

By Elizabeth O’Gorek, HillRag

“It’s good for shade, sitting with friends and talking or play games. Or you can sit by yourself and write something personal in your diary,” said eight-year-old Gabby while talking about her experiences in the River Garden at Seaton Elementary School, a District of Columbia Public School (DCPS) school that serves pre-K3 to fifth grade in the Shaw neighborhood.

For Seaton Principal Suzanne Peters, those are important benefits of the rocky, plant-filled space. The River Garden is one of two garden plots on the school yard, emblematic of the school’s emphasis on health: of individual students, and of the earth.

Gold Standard of Health

The two gardens are a central part of the school’s environmental education, which teaches students to care for the earth, the city and themselves. “We’re one of DC’s healthiest schools,” Peters said. In fact, Seaton Elementary is one of America’s healthiest schools, recognized with gold status in 2016 by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

The gardens are visible through the windows of her office. The oldest, a school garden that grows vegetables, trees and flowers has been on school grounds longer than anyone in the building can recall — probably more than twenty years. The newest addition to the school grounds is a river garden installed through the District Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE) River Smart Grant Program, was put in just last summer and has already become favorite student hangout.

“So, we’re very thoughtful about what our students are doing for wellness, including physical activity but also food, and that piece comes in the garden as well,” said Peters.

Seaton partners with City Blossoms, a District non-profit that helps create healthy communities by developing child-centered green spaces. The non-profit provides a FoodCorps service member who uses the ‘Nature Works Everywhere’ curriculum.