The mission of the Living Classrooms Foundation, based in Baltimore, Maryland, is to strengthen underserved communities by helping young people achieve their potential with a hands-on, experiential approach to learning. Food Tank had the opportunity to interview Christine Runion about their innovative work.
Food Tank (FT): What programs and theories influenced the development of this comprehensive and experiential approach to education?
Christine Runion (CR): In 1985, Living Classrooms Foundation was formed as the Lady Maryland Foundation. Shipwrights and students built the Lady Maryland, a historic schooner, as their first project. Since then, the schooner has provided a hands-on education for more than 250,000 students along the eastern seaboard to the Great Lakes region.
Living Classrooms has developed a distinctive competency in experiential learning, “Learning by Doing.” These experiences take place at many “living classrooms” on our various campuses, including maritime museums and ships, and in neighborhood and community settings. We apply our approach in three focus areas: K-8 schools, hands-on educational enrichment, and job training.
FT: How can Living Classrooms influence local economic issues?
CR: Living Classrooms aims to break the cycle of poverty by combining the city’s most cherished assets – it’s beautiful and historic harbor – with some of the most overlooked – the thousands of bright, ambitious children and young adults who are struggling to succeed.
Our Children’s Target Investment Zone (CTIZ) initiative provides programs and services to residents of some of East Baltimore’s neediest neighborhoods, which include the Perkins Homes, Fayette Street corridor, and McElderry Park communities. The Foundation is collaborating with public schools and other key public and private partners, to deliver a range of targeted services. Our intention is to create a pipeline of services for the community’s residents from cradle to college and career.
FT: Describe the BUGS program and what it is designed to teach.
CR: Baltimore Urban Gardening with Students (BUGS) provides academic enrichment opportunities during out-of-school hours for students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools in East Baltimore. It is one of the only programs in the country that uses urban gardening as a medium for academic enrichment while helping students meet state and local standards in core academic subjects. Students grow, pick, and cook their own ingredients in the BUGS greenhouse. The BUGS program offers students a broad array of enrichment activities that complement their regular academic programs; and provides other educational services to the families of participating children.
FT: Talk about some recent activities or goals related to the BUGS program.
CR: BUGS recently wrapped up summer camp where the students continued after school education. In addition to daily programing, the students took field trips to the Zoo, sporting events, and Larriland Farm. Every other Wednesday, students pick fresh produce from the farm and combine their harvest with ingredients from the garden to make delicious treats like quiche, cherry pie, or fresh smoothies.
The new school year just started and the BUGS program operates every day after school. From dance, art, and painting to Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) lessons, BUGS students participate in a variety of activities. Every year students host a Farmers Market where they sell their produce and crafts.