School gardens and food service areas can have a tremendous impact on kids’ nutrition education and provide an excellent environment for experiential learning. Schools across the US have embraced school gardening and increasingly incorporate their garden veggies into school lunches and classroom snacks. While getting kids involved in growing and choosing healthy food has many benefits, it can present a challenge to food safety. Have those carrots been washed thoroughly? Is the teacher trained in pest-prevention practices to prevent unwanted guests from joining the feast? Are policies and procedures in place to safeguard against pesticide misuse or drift?
The I-Three Corps Urban IPM project focuses on promote integrated pest management (IPM) methods to reduce risks posed by pests and pesticides. With IPM, school gardeners might use mulches instead of herbicides to control weeds. Or the custodian could use a mouse trap instead of a rodenticide to keep germ-carrying mice out of the classroom. Planting disease-resistant crops, adding flowers attractive to beneficial insects, and cleaning up plant debris at season-end help keep pests at bay without the use of potentially harmful pesticides.
With prior grant support, we developed new tools and training resources for school staff and volunteers. We created the ‘Stop School Pests Training and Certification program’ with on-line modules customized for specific audiences such as classroom teachers, school nurses, and school maintenance staff modules. In addition, we created a new website, ischoolpestmanager.org, to provide easy access to the modules plus over 1,000 selected resources such as action plans, checklists and fact sheets to help schools more safely and effectively manage pests.
The challenge our team faced is in reaching intended audiences (school staff, community volunteers and students) to promote the availability of IPM resources and training modules. We turned to the eXtension i-Three Corps program to help us hone new, effective outreach approaches to inform schools and communities across the country.
Our outreach campaign was launched in 2016 to promote school ipm resources, multiply impact and extend our reach. We partnered with US EPA to host a webinar introducing the iSchoolPestManager and the StopSchoolPests websites. Bookmarks featuring the web address and logo for iSchoolPestManager were printed and we are working to distribute them at conferences and other venues attended by school professionals. Our hope is that eXtension educators will use and promote these resources through Master Gardener programs, Farm-to-School programs, and other outreach and education forums.