Edible Schoolyard Pilots in Two Yerevan Schools

The Municipality of Yerevan and the American University of Armenia (AUA) Acopian Center for the Environment completed their first year of cooperation on a program called “The Edible Schoolyard Project”. The program, which translates into Armenian as “The Nutrient Cycle in Schoolyards”, has been piloted in 2 Yerevan schools starting in November 2015. A graduation and achievements ceremony took place in each of the schools, the Yerevan Secondary School #87 and in Yerevan Basic School #56 named after Stepan Zoryan on May 12 and 13, 2016, respectively.

The program involves a total of 43 students from grades 8-12. During the project students did vermicomposting in their schools. Vermicomposting is the process, in which red worms create organic nutrient-rich castings using food waste. During the event this fertilizer was used in organic gardening. This way project aimed to demonstrate a nutrient cycle. The groups met 30-45 minutes after school twice a week to monitor, discuss, and make adjustments to the vermicomposting bins.

Beginning of May this year, students used the fertilizer generated by the worms to plant seedlings of strawberries and tomatoes. The students transplanted these seedlings into the schoolyards during the graduation and achievement ceremony. Simultaneously, the participants made salads from organic food, and fed the food waste to the worms. This way, during the event, students demonstrated the full cycle of the project.

AUA Acopian Center for the Environment director Alen Amirkhanian says, “We were looking forward to the results of our “The Edible Schoolyard” pilots in 2 schools. This was a hands on educational tool that supplemented our “Natural Environment and I” program with schools. The results are impressive. Students kept their worm colonies alive for and thriving and in the process learned about biological systems and how natural resources flow from one form to the other.”

Tigran Sargsyan, head of Development and Investment Programs Department of the Yerevan Municipality, highlighted the importance of the environmental initiatives in Yerevan schools towards sustainable development. He expressed confidence that the cooperation between the Yerevan Municipality and AUA Acopian Center for the Environment will be continuous.

“First reaction of the students to the worms was predictable: almost all of them were disgusted and could not even approach them. However, during the past few months students took care of the worms and started to treat them as their pets and even began to touch them,” says Marine Asatryan, the Environmental Education and Youth Projects Coordinator of the AUA Acopian Center for the Environment.

“The program is designed as a hands on learning experience. So students became leaders in the group. During feeding, many students from other classes came by to watch, the leaders introduced the worms and demonstrated the process to their guests,” says Armine Sargsyan, AUA Acopian Center expert and educator involved in the project. “Over the course of the project, students were also excited to witness how the worm family grew, when new cocoons were laid and baby worms crawled out of them,” says Sargsyan. As part of the program students learned about the reproductive system of the worms and conditions for their wellbeing. Such hands on experience, Sargsyan says, leads to deep learning, an accomplishment not readily reached by only reading textbooks.

After the pilot phase is over, the experience will be assessed and the possibility of expanding the initiative to more schools will be discussed. Asatryan and Sargsyan are also compiling a teacher manual that includes lesson plans that will make it possible for the initiative to expand throughout Armenia. A video will also be produced to document the project and provide additional guidance to educators.

More photos are available here

The AUA Acopian Center for the Environment (AUA ACE) is a research center of the American University of Armenia. AUA ACE promotes the protection and restoration of the natural environment through research, education, and community outreach. AUA ACE’s focus areas include sustainable natural resource management, biodiversity and conservation, greening the built environment, clean energy and energy efficiency, as well as information technology and the environment.