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Community and Collaboration in National City

By Angelica Gastelum, Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center Schools Coordinator

As the demand for engaging, science-based children’s programming began to grow in National City, as well as around the world, Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center quickly realized that partnerships and collaboration were essential to community growth.  Olivewood is a non-profit organization serving National City students, adults, and families with a purpose to build healthy families and a healthy environment.

Just as humans, animals, sunshine, and soil all come together to grow a garden, Olivewood came together with local partners like Ocean Connectors to grow a healthy science community.  In fact, it was through our partnership with National School District that this mission-aligned collaboration with Ocean Connectors was born. With shared goals to inspire young environmental stewards, our partnership is critical to our work in National City.

Olivewood Gardens began serving National City students in 2010 through its Children’s Field Trip Program. Our Children’s Program offers visiting school children a curriculum of ecological, academic, and culinary lessons to build scientific literacy and environmental awareness while encouraging students to explore the interrelationships between a quality diet, sustainable agriculture, and healthy living.

Fast forward to 2019, and Olivewood Gardens and Ocean Connectors began a cross-sector partnership by sharing information, providing support to one another, and elevating our shared connection to the community.  We visited each other’s programs, organized an event for our District teachers and staff (that was later postponed due to COVID), and continually shared information and provided feedback on best practices for implementing our programs.  

Most recently, Olivewood Gardens and Ocean Connectors serve in a committee with 16 Weeks of STEAM in National City, with its inaugural launch coming up on February 1st, 2021.  The mission of 16 Weeks of STEAM is to inspire, develop, and sustain more student interest and career aspirations in Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math (STEAM) fields with the goal that students in National City will become scientists, engineers, artists, business owners, entrepreneurs, teachers, doctors, and nurses that our community needs.  

Additionally, we have found connections in our curriculum for extended learning opportunities for students that help reinforce our program objectives.  Both organizations also are part of the BEETLES sub-National Network professional learning session that meets virtually once per month.    

As we have had to shift to a virtual reality, both our organizations are recreating the learning experience for our school community.  Offering virtual presentations, field trips, and joint creative opportunities, we have managed to engage students in a virtual platform.  While remote engagement may not be the first choice forour active, energetic elementary learners, Olivewood and Ocean Connectors have safely created options to support teachers and students in both educational, social and emotional wellbeing with our programs.

Our investment in National City and the impact we hope to achieve can only be done with the collaboration and appreciation both our organizations have for this beautiful community.  As we continue to build our scientific field, we can only do this by working together, continuing our dialogue and our mission to advance the impact of environmental and outdoor education.

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