Art & Sculpture



Academic Essays



Gardens as Tools for Community Development

Jennifer Lewis

Lakewood High School

9th Grade English/Social Studies Block


Background Essay

     A sense of community promotes a sense of purpose and belonging.  How do we, as educators, convince our students that their contributions are important to the survival of the school community and the greater community as well?  How do we articulate important common goals and foster cooperation among our students to attain such goals?  One idea is to create a garden:  a bounded environment persisting over time that could replicate, on a micro-scale, the essential factors of the larger learning community. 

       Plants and humans have been inextricably tied forever.  These ties are physical, emotional, social, and cultural.  Clearly, the Cleveland Cultural Gardens can be cited as an example of just how multi-dimensional and significant these ties can be.  These public spaces are, in essence, constructed symbols that literally and figuratively embody both a particular sense of community as well as a broader sense of regional and national identity (Tebeau 4).  By using the Cleveland Cultural Gardens as a basis for discussing community and identity, students can draw parallels between the gardens and their own school community.  These parallels can then be placed within the larger context of understanding the school culture and more importantly, the role of the student, parent, school personnel, and the overall community in influencing that culture.

     The culture of a school can be viewed as “the existence of an interplay between three factors:  the attitudes and beliefs of persons both inside the school and in the external environment, the cultural norms of the school, and the relationships between persons in the school” (“School Context”).  Each school, although schools are alike in many ways, has an ambience all its own.  As educators, we can understand the dynamics of this culture and observe useful approaches to making the school better.  The creation of a cultural garden as a reflection of the school is particularly appealing to educators who wish to stress the dynamic quality of school culture.  Just as a garden as a true physical space is not constant or static, school culture is forever changing and shifting.  This happens in many ways:  program/curriculum changes, staff changes, and changes in the make-up of the student body according to demographic and socio-economic changes in the community.

     I have often heard school culture described as “the life of the school.”  It is truly holistic.  We build culture and it encompasses what we believe.  The school community, like other communities, is comprised of tribes or clans with deep ties among people who attach meaning to everyday life through values and traditions, rituals and ceremony.  In recognizing this, educators are able to increase the focus of daily behavior on what is important and valued.  Students build commitment and identification for themselves.  They can become motivated by this sense of commitment to something (an organization) that has meaning, values, and an ennobling purpose. 

     Dolores Hayden in The Power of Place:  Urban Landscapes as Public History, talks about the need people have to mark places whose significance is often invisible to outsiders (231).  These symbols and signs represent intangible cultural values and beliefs and they play a very powerful role in bringing a culture together, unifying a group and giving it direction and purpose.  Our students need this – in fact they are hungry for tangible ways to explore and express their identity.  It is imperative to the preservation of the school culture that we offer students the opportunity to demonstrate the range of values, beliefs, and assumptions that express the values under girding their own emerging culture. In fact, through the construction of a cultural garden, students will become storytellers, the most powerful and indispensable members of the cultural network.  The achievement of such a garden gives its creators a powerful voice that can transcend prescribed divisions to show a unified purpose, which, like the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, can promote tolerance, peace, and friendship for years to come.


Hayden, Dolores.  The Power of Place:  Urban Landscapes as Public History

     Cambridge:  MIT Press, 1995.

 “School Context:  Bridge or Barrier to Change.”  17 July 2005

Tebeau, Mark.  Cleveland Cultural Gardens.”  Sculpted Places:  Identity, Community,

     and the Cleveland Cultural Gardens.  13 Sept. 2004.  16 July 2005