Lessons Learned at Spring Brook Farm An Evaluation of the Farms For City Kids Program



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Case study summary

The experience of the PS 233 students is likely to be typical of a week at the farm. While the students appreciated the healthy lifestyle they practiced at the farm, it did not immediately appear that they planned on making changes to their own habits after the experience. However, the PS 233 students reported having a very successful experience at Spring Brook Farm overall. Data from teachers, farm staff, students, and the evaluator’s observations suggests they were impacted in many ways, including:


  • Gains in self-confidence and self-esteem

  • Respect for farm animals and knowledge of their care

  • Teamwork and conflict resolution skills

  • Greater understanding of agriculture

  • Improved attitudes back at school

Evaluators, teachers, and staff observed students adapting to and thriving in the farm environment, overcoming initial fears, and quickly gaining confidence in their daily duties. Given the strength of students’ impressions seven months after their farm visit, it is not difficult to imagine that lessons learned at the farm may persist in students for many years to come.




Section Three:



Pre-Existing Data

Overview of Pre-Existing Data Sources


Farms for City Kids program staff have been actively collecting data from both students and educators for a number of years. In 2003, a summary of the 2003 survey data was presented to the board, but otherwise no systematic examination of the body of pre-existing data has been conducted prior to the current formal evaluation process.

The evaluation team chose to examine the pre-existing data for four reasons. First, the analysis provided preliminary insight into reported program outcomes. Second, the analysis informed the creation of a data-based platform for designing current evaluation instruments. Third, it allowed tailoring of current evaluation instruments toward outcomes of primary interest and usefulness to the staff and board. Finally, the pre-existing data further enriched the overall data set for this evaluation process. The evaluators obtained the written student and educator surveys from 2002-2005 and systematically analyzed the most relevant questions. It is important to note that the format and content of the surveys has evolved over the years, so the same questions have not necessarily been asked year after year. The questions that were analyzed were asked consistently in all the surveys.

In addition to the pre-existing survey data, the evaluators also reviewed and systematically analyzed selected elements of previously conducted video interviews which were intended for use in a fundraising and promotional video. Findings from this investigation are also reported in this section.

Pre-existing teacher surveys


From 2002-2005, 125 educator surveys were gathered, some of which were repeats from teachers who attended the farm more than once during that period. Much of the information on these surveys is focused on logistics, staff performance, activity preferences, and other topics that do not fall into the scope of this evaluation.
The question that was asked most consistently and appeared most likely to yield useful data was: “What noticeable influence did Spring Brook Farm have on your students, if any?” Of the 125 surveys, 116 contained teacher responses to this question. The teachers’ responses were coded according to themes, and the number of times each theme occurred was tallied. The complete results for this question are depicted in the following chart:

What noticeable influence did Spring Brook Farm

have on your students, if any?” (Teacher survey)

Theme

% of total responses (n=116)

Improved relationships between students

21%

Increased ability to work in a team


15%

Enhanced self-confidence

10%

Appreciation/awareness of rural & agricultural lifestyle

10%

Appreciation of physical work

6%

Appreciation/awareness of nature

5%

Increased sense of responsibility

5%

Enhanced self-esteem

5%

Increased respect for animals

4%

Greater willingness to try new things

3%

Growth in academic skills

2%

Increase in maturity

2%

Demonstration of greater self control

2%

Thriving without electronics

2%

Improvement in listening skills

1%

Increased sense of independence

1%


Increased perseverance

1%

Greater self-reflection

1%

Greater appreciation of teacher for students

1%

Increased volunteerism

1%

Stronger leadership skills

<1%

Improved outlook on future

<1%

These themes can be refined into five overarching themes:


  • Social skills (improved relationships, teamwork, volunteerism, etc.);

  • Personal skills (self-confidence, self-esteem, responsibility, etc.);

  • Appreciation for agriculture (farm knowledge, affinity for animals, rural lifestyles, etc.);

  • Appreciation for the environment; and

  • Other (everything else).

This yields a simpler and clearer overall picture, depicted in the following chart:






Pre-existing student surveys

Although there have been a variety of formats of the student survey, all of the surveys from 2003-2004 asked the question, “What did you learn about yourself?” 669 responses to this question were analyzed in a similar fashion to the question analyzed in the teacher survey.

Given the greater number of surveys and the broadness of the question, a wide scope of themes and sub-themes emerged. A simplified summary of these themes appears below:

What did you learn about yourself?” (Student survey)




Theme

% of total responses (n=669)

Feelings of or increases to self-confidence

41%

Feelings of or increases to self-esteem

18%

Awareness of changes to personal behaviors

7%

Knowledge of farming

7%

Feelings about animals

7%

Other

6%

Appreciation of farming and country life

4%

Affirming value of teamwork

3%

Sense of responsibility

2%

Survival without electronic entertainment

2%

Perseverance


1%

Knowledge of natural environment

1%

Willingness to try new things

1%

To clarify the two top categories, we defined self-esteem as one’s assessment of his or her worth as a person, and self-confidence as belief in one’s ability to accomplish things.


These themes can be refined into five overarching themes:


  • Self-confidence (statements about abilities to accomplish things, e.g. “I can milk a cow.”);

  • Self-esteem (assessments of self-worth, e.g. “I learned I am a really great farmer.”);

  • Appreciation for agriculture (farm knowledge, affinity for animals, rural lifestyles, etc.);

  • Other personal and social skills (responsibility, respect, teamwork, perseverance, etc.); and

  • Other (everything else).

The chart on the following page depicts the distribution of these themes.



Increase in self-confidence was such an overwhelmingly prominent theme that it is of interest to report the sub-themes within that particular category.




What did you learn about yourself?” (Student survey)

Sub-themes of self-confidence

Sub-theme

% of total responses (n=275 )

I can farm, accomplish chores, work hard


36%

General statements of self-confidence

23%

I overcame my fear of animals

18%

I can tolerate, handle, work with manure

6%

I can milk a cow

5%

I can wake up or go to sleep early

4%

I am brave

2%

I can be helpful

2%

I can be more responsible

2%

I can hike

2%

I can get along with others

1%

I can be a good student

<1%


Video interviews

In 2005, students and teachers were interviewed (not by PEER Associates) in order to capture testimony for a promotional/fundraising video. Given that the large quantity of data collected would be reduced to the most photogenic six minutes, the evaluators decided to extract greater value from the videos by conducting a systematic analysis of the most relevant questions. The rationale for reviewing the raw footage and gathering this data is that it might be useful for providing a further point of triangulation for overall evaluation findings.

The questions most useful to this evaluation were:


  • “What do you think is the most important lesson you learned on the farm?”

  • “What did you learn about yourself?”

  • “Why is a program like Farms for City Kids important?”

  • “What is one thing that you do (or feel) differently since you have returned home from the Farm?”

  • “What is something that you or your class can do now to continue using the new behaviors and knowledge that you learned on the Farm?”

Thematic summaries of the responses to these questions are offered below. The numbers of responses to each question vary because not all interviewees were asked or responded to the same questions.




What do you think is the most important lesson

you learned on the farm?” (Student video interview)

Theme

% of total responses (n=26)

Care for animals

28%

Teamwork, hard work

19%

Try hard, be confident

19%

Protect the environment

15%

Other

12%

Farm lessons are transferable to life


7%



What did you learn about yourself?”

(Student video interview)

Theme

% of total responses (n=24)

Statements reflecting enhanced self-confidence

79%

Statements reflecting enhanced self-esteem

13%

Other

8%




Why is a program like Farms for City Kids important?”

(Student video interview)

Theme

% of total responses (n=23)

Give kids a chance to care for animals

44%

Help city kids appreciate agricultural lifestyle

8%

Give kids a chance to care for the environment

8%

Learn values

4%




What is one thing that you do (or feel) differently since you have returned home from the Farm? ” (Student video interview)

Theme

% of total responses (n=19)

Appreciate/care more for animals

37%

Do chores/help the family

26%

Don't litter/respect the env't

21%

Eat differently

11%

Respect parents

5%



What is something that you or your class can do now to continue using the new behaviors and knowledge

that you learned on the Farm? ” (Student video interview)

Theme

% of total responses (n=22)

Help each other more/practice teamwork

37%

Clean up the environment


23%

Other

14%

Care for animals

9%

Do chores at home

9%

Have more social interaction

9%

The video interview data suggest that caring for the farm animals left a strong impression on the students. This was students’ most frequent response to three of the interview questions: the most important lesson they learned at the farm, why they think the program itself is important, and something they feel differently about since returning home after the farm visit.


Practicing teamwork also appeared prominently in response to two of the interview questions: the most important lesson they learned at the farm, and something they learned at the farm that could be transferred back to life in the city. Cleaning up or protecting the environment is another theme that appeared across multiple questions. In the realm of personal growth, and increase to self-confidence was the overwhelmingly dominant theme.
As teachers were not interviewed as systematically as the students, their commentaries did not lend themselves well to thematic analysis. There were numerous teacher comments that support the findings of the student interviews, including:

They really come away with much more than a respect for the animals and respect for themselves. It is a level of self-confidence that they built being at the farm…it gives them a jolt of what they really are capable of doing.”

My ‘farmers’ are more respectful than everybody else.” (referring to the students who visited the farm vs. those who did not)

They are gentler, kinder, and more curious, especially about anything that can be related to the farm.”

Kids give up easily in school but not on farm. They bring this back with them.”

There is individual empowerment because the group succeeds based on the individuals.”

Students are different when they came back: better communicators in difficult situations; patience with animals translates to patience with classmates. They are more analytical, and slow down; they are not so quick to react.”

Any time they can show farm knowledge, they do.”

Summary of pre-existing data


Analysis of the pre-existing data provided a clear starting point for understanding the impacts of participants in the Farms for City Kids program. Although a variety of types of questions were examined, many similar themes appeared across the data. Many students’ comments reflected knowledge, respect, and understanding of farm animals, indicating that this aspect of the farm experience perhaps left the most profound impression. The next most prominent themes were increases in personal skills--primarily self-confidence and self-esteem--and increases in social skills, as demonstrated in improved social interaction among students, and increased teamwork abilities.



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