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Background for PAR Project

I am a garden coordinator at a local elementary school that is located


in an underserved, primarily African-American community in
Washington, DC. For the past three months, I have worked with a
group of seven first-grade girls during an afterschool garden club.
Together, we maintain the garden space by watering, weeding, and
planting. The neighborhood is a food desert so this work is especially
important to show the students where their food comes from and
provide them a source for local, organic produce. We cook together
regularly and use food from the garden to showcase local flavor. As
much as possible, I integrate cuisine from the African-American
community.
The PAR project I am developing will focus on the garden space in
order to discover what changes we can make to the garden to make it
more inviting. The questions I ask will allow the students to give their
feedback and their responses will be used to generate action steps to
improve the garden space.

PAR Questions
I decided to use a creative activity to conduct my research. My activity
was adopted from the toolkit compiled by Lenz (2007) that focuses on
child-friendly assessment tools. I surveyed 5 students in the
afterschool garden club and one teacher. If I had more time, I would
also survey community members, more school staff as well as staff
from the funding organization.
To begin, the students drew a map of the garden on a piece of paper.
Using this map, they identified places in the garden where they felt
safe or unsafe. Their responses will be used to think about positive
changes we can make to the space.
1. Pretend that you are a bird flying over our garden. What do you
see? Using this perspective, draw a map of our garden.
2. With a green marker, circle the spaces in the garden where you
feel safe. Why do you feel safe in these spaces?
3. With a red marker, circle the spaces in the garden where you feel
unsafe? Why do you feel unsafe in these spaces?
4. What are three changes you would like to see in the garden?
5. Who can help us make these changes?
6. What can we do to help make these changes?

Elements of PAR
According to Pain, Whitman, and Milledge (2007), there are seven key
principles that are central to PAR. They include collaboration,

knowledge, power, ethics, building theory, action, emotions and wellbeing (p. 4).
Collaboration
Collaboration involves identifying who will conduct the research,
delineating what roles each person will have, and generating unifying
principles to maintain unity within the group. The garden action group
will involve students from the garden club, teachers from the school,
community members, and staff from a local organization that helped to
fund the garden.
Knowledge
The initial research method I used to conduct interview questions was
a creative arts-based method that involved mapping the garden space.
I chose this method because it is child-friendly. If I developed this
method further, I would invite community members and teachers to
also participate in the mapping project.
Knowledge also includes identifying the skills necessary to make
important changes as identified through surveys and research (Pain,
Whitman, & Milledge, 2007, p. 5). In this project, it may be necessary
to identify people with skills that relate to gardening or carpentry. My
survey questions are also designed for the students to reflect on their
own skills. For example, many students said they could help plant
more flowers to make the space more inviting. They were also very
excited to become tour guides in the garden during parent nights or
community open times.
Power
PAR methodology creates a cooperative relationship between
participants and researcher [creating] a permanent respect for
knowledge of the members and for their ability to understand and
address issues (Cruz Velasco, 2013). This respect transfers power into
the hands of community members and necessitates the use of local
knowledge to collect and assess data. In this project, for example, I
will make sure to invite local community members to join the garden
action group. This is especially important because of race dynamics
across Washington, DC. I am cognizant of the fact that I am an
outsider and do not want the power ascribed to me as a white female
to interfere with the research and subsequent action steps. This needs
to be something that is carried out by the local community and for the
local community.
Ethics
In thinking about ethics, I will think of preserving the anonymity of the
students in the afterschool garden club. To do this, I will store their

maps in a safe place that only I have access to and will use
pseudonyms to protect their identities. It is also necessary to think
about the risks involved in carrying out these research questions. Are
their ways the local community can be harmed if we make changes to
the garden? For example, if the garden is a scarce resource how can
we make sure everyone has equal access to it?
Building Theory
The map assessment tool is a visual way to record data. The garden
action group will use these visual tools to direct further research. If the
initial mapping activity is successful, we might choose to repeat it with
a different demographic. In the initial meeting, I will record student
responses by recording our sessions as well as taking notes.
Building theory also requires stepping back from time to time to reflect
on the direction of the research and constructively criticize the results
as well as assess what further actions can be taken (Paul, Whitman, &
Milledge, 2007, p. 7). To facilitate this type of reflection, the garden
action group will meet bi-monthly with a consultant who can help
facilitate discussion.
Action
This principle focuses on how to synthesize the research information
into manageable action steps, as well as how to promote findings from
the research (Paul, Whitman, & Milledge, 2007, p. 7).
One way to promote findings from the research could include holding a
staff meeting at the school to share findings. This meeting could also
be replicated with the community during a local Advisory
Neighborhood Commission meeting with local government officials. It
is important to present findings in a clear, concise way so it may be
necessary to hire a graphic designer who can help create tables and
graphs to present to the public.
Emotions and Well-Being
This principal ensures that the investigator creates a safe space for
participants in which individuals have sufficient security to speak and
interact (Cruz Velasco, 2013). To create this safe space, the cultural
context must be recognized as an asset. For the garden project, for
example, what aspects of the African American culture can be
harnessed to create a richer, more meaningful dialogue? As
investigator, I must recognize that my role is not to improve the
community but to join the community voice and allow them to be
heard more clearly than in the past (Cruz Vealsco, p. 2013).

Action Goals

1. Create a Green Team to teach student body about composting the students identified several places in the garden where they
feel unsafe. The first was around the compost bin. This is a twobin system made from wood and wire mesh. After probing a bit
more, I realized that students felt unsafe because they do not
know what the bin is used for. So without the context, it does
look a bit scary. One way we can alleviate this fear is to hold
several trainings about how to use the bin. This could even turn
into a school-wide initiative. Students who go through the
training, for example, could form a green team to educate their
peers and/or collect food scraps from the cafeteria.
a. Hold an informational meeting about a new green team
involving students and staff
b. Identify students and staff who are interested in learning
more about composting
c. Hold weekly trainings involving the compost bin
d. Green team will start to collect food scraps from cafeteria
and educate their peers about what can and cannot be
composted
e. Green team will create more informational signage to put
around the compost bin
f. Green team can also create a composting manual for
further information
2. Create Garden Schedule students also expressed concern that
the garden does not have a lock. This means that anyone can
walk into the space at any time. The gate is not monitored. To
address this concern, we can create a garden schedule with set
open times in the space. At other times, the garden will be
locked.
a. Design a community survey to gauge interest in the garden
space
b. Create a weekly garden schedule with daily open times for
community members to explore the space
c. Buy a lock for the garden and designate someone to lock
and unlock the space each day
d. Gather a team of students who can give guided tours of
the space during these open times to familiarize
newcomers to the garden, build community connections,
and give students a sense of autonomy
3. Build Steps in Hillside one area of the garden is a very steep hill
that leads up to a flat space with some beautiful plum trees. The
hill is quite steep and hard to climb. Students explained that
they are afraid they will fall down the hill. One way to manage
this area is to create steps leading up to plum trees.
a. Identify parents and community members with building
experience

b. Approach businesses for in-kind donations


c. Hold a meeting to plan the future build, identifying
materials and prep work necessary to build the hillside
steps
d. Plan a community build day for students, teachers, and
neighbors to come help build the steps
4. Create Monthly Parent Nights in the Garden students in the
afterschool garden club expressed that they feel more safe in the
garden when their family is present. To tackle this issue, we can
design a monthly parent night in the garden. This may help
parents feel more ownership of the space and can contribute to
the sustainability of the garden program.
a. With students, make invitations for parents to invite them
to the parent night
b. Approach a local chef and invite him or her to do a cooking
demo in the garden
c. Help students plan an activity for their parents, like a play
or song
5. Plant Trees in the Garden to Create More Shady Areas the
teacher who participated in the mapping activity explained that
she feels uncomfortable taking her students out to the garden
because there is no shade. To address this issue, we can plant
shade trees.
a. Consult with Casey Trees, a local organization that plants
native trees across the city
b. Do a walk-through of the space to identify the best areas to
plant
c. Plan a tree-planting day with the community
d. As the trees grow, buy umbrellas to install with cement to
cast temporary shade

Conclusion
This research will help me with my final project because both are
garden-related. It was a good reminder that community projects are
more successful when the community is actually involved and driving
the change. Working with the girls in the afterschool garden club to
map the garden according to where they feel safe and unsafe was a
challenging task. I think if I had more time, I could have introduced the
activity better and created a more conducive environment to think
about change. I hope to use this activity in Colombia as well as I begin
to design and implement a peacebuilding project that uses art and
gardening to facilitate dialog.