To capture the greatest breadth of opinion from students and teachers, written surveys were developed. The focus of these surveys was based on the analysis of selected questions from surveys collected from teachers and students in past years. The analysis of this pre-existing data indicated that the farm program impacted students primarily in two main areas. The realm of social skills included interpersonal relationships, teamwork and cooperation, and conflict resolution. The realm of personal skills included self-confidence and self-esteem. The findings from these previous surveys and Farms for City Kids’ program theories (see Logic Model in Appendix A) jointly informed the development of the new surveys.
The teacher survey consisted of open-ended questions and scaled-answer questions. See Appendix C for the complete surveys. The questions were designed to gather more specific data about the impacts of the farm visit on students. The teacher survey was made available in an online format, and teachers unavailable via email were sent paper copies. Non-respondents received paper surveys by mail, email reminders, and in some cases phone messages reminding them of the survey process. A total of 60 teachers representing 35 urban schools were solicited. This sample represents teachers from all the urban schools who have attended the week-long farm program since 2002. A total of 35 teachers responded, representing a 58% return rate.
The student survey consisted only of open-ended questions, and asked students what they learned on the farm, how the experience affected them, and how they felt about it. Packets of student surveys were sent to all of the 18 urban schools that came to the farm for the week-long program in 2005. The teachers administered the surveys to students and returned them to the evaluators. A total of 161 surveys were returned from 14 schools, thus 78% of attending schools are represented.
All data, including quotes, presented in this section are from these current surveys.
Analysis and Discussion of Findings
The substantial data set provided by the surveys offered a wealth of ideas about the impacts of the farm program. The survey responses were systematically analyzed and organized around the major themes that evolved.
The following five broad themes and their sub-themes are discussed in detail in this section:
Improved social dynamics
Students’ personal development
Success for students who struggle academically
Lasting value of the farm program
A summary of these findings is presented at the end of this section.3
Improved social dynamics
Both teachers and students made a strong case that spending an intensive week working and living together with a common purpose resulted in many changes to the social dynamic among students, and between students and teachers. Improvements to the social dynamic amongst students included deepening existing friendships, making new friends, bonding as a group, mixing social groups, becoming more accepting of each others differences, and treating each other with more respect.
By working together in teams, students learned how to cooperate more harmoniously and effectively with each other to achieve common goals, while developing useful teamwork skills and a genuine appreciation for the value of working together. In addition to teamwork, students also appeared to be learning and practicing conflict resolution skills while at the farm.
Teachers reported feeling a greater appreciation for their students after the trip, as well as receiving more respect and cooperation from their students. The students reported having a greater affinity for, deeper personal connections with, and an improved sense of respect for their teachers.
This section is divided into the three themes:
Improved relationships between students (including friendship, bonding, teamwork, respect);
Improved conflict resolution skills; and
Improved student-teacher relationships.
Improved relationships between students
“I think that living, working, eating and learning together fosters stability in children’s relationships with one another.” This teacher’s observation summarizes the positive effect that spending a week at the farm can have on students. Improved interpersonal relationships between students can help promote important pro-social skills such as respect for self and others, compassion, problem solving, and positive conflict resolution. The farm experience created an environment where students were both obliged to get to know each other through teamwork, as well as giving them the opportunity to discover each other on their own terms, during free times and as roommates.
As seen in Survey Question 2 (see graph below) “My students got along with each other better after the farm program than they did before they went”, most teachers agreed that the farm experience had a positive effect on relationships between students.
This finding was consistent with students’ comments. When asked, “Do you think that your trip to the farm affected the way you and your classmates get/got along socially?” 75% of students reported positive changes. Less than 1% reported a negative impact, and of the 25% that reported no change, about 1 in 3 said it was because they already got along well before the trip.
A number of themes emerged related to relationships between students, including:
Increased individual friendships
Social mixing and greater acceptance of others
Greater teamwork and cooperation
Greater respect for each other
Notably, teachers and students reported that these improvements in social dynamics often outlived the farm experience itself, helping to improve relationships and classroom environment back home in their school community.
Increased individual friendships
M “I didn't get along with a girl that was in my team. After the farm we are very close friends now. It's great to put people that don't talk to each other together.”
aking friends is an essential part of a child’s social development. Friends can help protect a child from social traumas such as teasing and rejection and help a child build a positive self-image. As one student wrote, “I feel like a better person because I made more friends.” The week at Spring Brook Farm offers students a unique environment for making friends with their peers.
A teacher explained that, “When students first arrive at the farm they tend to fall into their ‘school roles.’ Some are outgoing, some are quiet, some are leaders while others don't take leadership roles, and some are stronger in academics than others. And a short time after being on the farm, they see that their school roles don't matter.” Taking away the pressures and roles of the school environment creates a safer and more comfortable atmosphere for the students to get to know each other.
Many students reported making new friends and deepening existing friendships while at the farm:
“I met new kids in class and made friends with them while we were at the farm working.”
“I got along with more kids. I got along better with my old friends.”
“I was shy at first then I started talking and I made many friends.”
“Now some of the quiet people in my class are more social and broken out of their shell.”
“It changed how I acted toward some of the girls. I made friends with the girls who were new to my school thanks to Spring Brook Farm.”
“Before I went to the farm I wasn't outspoken and I didn't really talk to anybody so it has helped.”
Since the farm trip, one teacher noticed “many terrific changes in these children” with regard to their social development, and a number of teachers mentioned students who came to the farm shy and introverted, and left more open and able to make and maintain friendships. One teacher noticed that “before the trip there were quite a few kids that didn't have many friends in the school and stayed to themselves. Since the trip I see these same kids in the hallway and schoolyard laughing and joking with many new friends.” Another teacher told of “one particular girl who was very shy in school and immediately took on that role at the farm. After spending a short time at the farm, however, she became so comfortable and confident in herself that she was one of the more outgoing students on the trip.” A student wrote that she “made friends with a girl who used to be shy and now isn't anymore.”
A fifth grade teacher recounted the story of a student who made a remarkable turnaround during his week at the farm. He had been
…a depressed, brooding, withdrawn fifth grader without friends at school. In no time at all he connected with the animals, letting the calves suck dry formula from his thumb. He started to open up, come out of his brooding world, and smile. It wasn't long before he started to radiate warmth not only for the farm animals but for his peers and teachers also.
While development of friendships may not on the surface appear to be a major behavioral finding, it is clearly a factor in many of the important changes noted in students such as improved teamwork, conflict resolution, and self-concept.
G “I feel that the farm experience really helped them to bond together as a group; they are more cohesive as a result of our week on the farm.”
“We learned how to be a family…We have learned how to take care of each other and love each other.”
In addition to making friends, another important part of a healthy social development is for children to have a feeling of belonging in their class. As exemplified in the quotes above, many groups do become closer and more inclusive at the farm. Many students wrote about how they felt their school group had bonded together. Typical student comments included, “It brought us together as one class. We got to know each other better,” and, “We all got really close and are really good friends.”
Moreover, teachers reported that the bonds formed at the farm lasted long afterwards. Upon returning to school after the farm trip, reported one teacher, “…the children behaved differently, they were able to relate to each other much better.”
The following two teacher accounts illustrate the lasting value of the group experience:
“The students all felt they had participated in something very special with each other. During the following years in school, the diverse group of students I took to the farm all maintained their friendship and all distinguished themselves in the willing development of their personal responsibility. They all felt, as well as I did, that we shared a special relationship for having worked together as a team at the farm. It had a marvelous effect.” “I now teach eighth grade math to the class I brought to the farm 2 years ago. They still talk about it and I've had observers of my classroom mention that it's a really safe, comfortable, cooperative environment, which I attribute in part to the farm trip.”
Social mixing and greater acceptance of others
O “I saw children interact and become friends that would have never been friends if not for this experience.”
ften a group at the farm is comprised of different classes, and as in most every student group there are social strata within classes. The cooperative environment promoted at the farm supercedes the competitive environment that often exists socially and academically at school. “Many of the students worked in groups together that normally would not have. These children found a common bond in the activities they had to do,” wrote one teacher. “I think a lot of them realized that kids who they overlooked can often be talented and interesting, and again that's in part a farm-learned lesson,” said another.
Students echoed these sentiments with comments such as these:
“I was not really that close with a lot of kids in my class and I never hung out with them, but since my other friend was not there I started talking to them.”
“We learned how to get along with other kids from different classes.”
“My classmates and I never used to talk to him but now I get along with that person well.”
“Some people in my class I never really talked to, and getting out of school showed me their personality.”
Perhaps this greater exposure to students they would not normally spend time with helped students become more open to each other. “When I had to live under the same roof with them I learned more about them and we forgot about our differences,” wrote one student. Another stated, “We all realized we have something in common.”
Teachers reported that their students’ acceptance of each other had improved too, as seen in their response to Survey Question 9, “The farm program helped my students become more accepting of their classmates’ differences.”
Further supporting the outcome suggested by Survey Question 9 (graph at left), a teacher wrote that,
Our farm trip is open to all fourth and fifth graders, regular education and special education, in our building. The special education population tends to be somewhat marginalized due to their specific needs and/or behaviors. The most dramatic outcome of this farm trip is an outstanding increase in acceptance among the students as well as some wonderful bonds and friendships that are born on the farm.
With many socially unconventional ways to prove themselves, such as shoveling manure, some students found themselves able to improve their standing amongst their peers, as related in this teacher’s anecdote:
I loved watching some students who were not previously seen as 'cool' complete some difficult tasks and really earn the respect of some tougher classmates. I had one student who excelled at the hard, tedious task of filling wheelbarrows with manure and transporting it while some other students had a hard time and it really helped them work through conflicts and other bullying type experiences.
While it seems that many students made friends at the farm, there will always be students who are not likely to get along. In a case like this, one teacher described how the farm chores helped some students learn to work together toward common goals despite their differences:
I found that my students were more tolerant of each other and their differences after going to the farm. They also developed a better understanding of the fact that groups usually get more done than individuals. Students focused more on the outcome than on the actual process which may not have been the most agreeable circumstance (for example working with someone they did not like to clean the heifer barn.) They knew that it was a task that had to be done to help the animals and they were able to focus on that instead of who they were working with. This also translated into our class projects. They were able to focus on completing the project and made the most of the positive aspects and strengths of their group members.
The reports of group bonding and greater acceptance of each other suggest that the farm experience helps the students to transcend some of their pre-conceived notions about each other and come together in a way that benefited them as individuals and as a group as well.
Greater teamwork and cooperation
“The students seemed to form a comradeship with each other and a greater confidence not only in themselves, but in their peers. The farm experience helped them to realize that they all have strengths they were never before aware of. The students learned that they and their peers are capable of accomplishing great tasks when they work together as a team.”
It comes as no surprise that teamwork is one of the most consistently and frequently mentioned themes across the data. Very few if any of the students that attend the farm program have likely had such an intensive experience of working in teams to tackle unfamiliar, often uncomfortable, and physically demanding tasks. Accomplishment of these tasks would simply not be possible without teamwork, and this appears to leave quite an impression on the students.
94% of teachers “strongly agreed” with the statement “The farm program helped my students learn how to cooperate more with each other.” and 94% “strongly agreed” with the statement “My students learned the value of teamwork at the farm program.” These questions on the teacher survey had the most uniformly positive response of all the survey items.
In addition, when students were asked, “What was the most important lesson you learned at the farm?”, 20% of the answers related to teamwork, making it the one of the most frequently occurring themes of the responses. Typical responses included:
“I learned that if we worked as a team every project that we did went a lot faster.”
“I learned that teamwork is important if you want to get stuff done!”
“It helped me realize you need help in your life and it is better if you have good teamwork skills.”
“It taught me that if you work together and cooperate you can get the job done.”
“I learned that it is more fun when you work together.” The number of responses similar to this was noteworthy because the question was open-ended and students commented on a very wide variety of lessons ranging from “Don’t step in cow poop,” to “Wake up on time.”
Later in the survey students were specifically asked about teamwork, and 78% of students responded affirmatively to the question, “Do you think the experience of working in teams at the farm has helped you cooperate or work together more effectively with other kids since the trip?”
It seems that the farm experience helped to establish a positive feedback loop: the students formed friendships through working together, and then as friends they were better able to continue working together. “We had to help each other and that builds friendship and character,” wrote one student, and another stated that, “We worked together and that made me better friends with my classmates.”
Other students cited these new friendships as a reason for improved cooperation. “A lot of us got to know each other better so we are able to work together more effectively,” wrote one student. “Now I know more people in my school and can talk to them and work better with them,” said another.
Other outcomes that students thought practicing teamwork had helped them with included improved communication skills, better understanding of their fellow students, better self-control, less conflict, and more sharing. These did not emerge as major themes, but were mentioned by a few students each.
A few teachers commented on how the teamwork and cooperation skills their students developed at the farm translated back to the classroom:
“Teamwork was enhanced. Students drew on experiences at the farm and were able to translate them into school projects such as supporting each other, and referring to things that happened on farm, such as ‘Remember what we did at the farm when…? Well do that now.’” “The cooperation factor plays out at school. Many of the children will work together to solve problems and help each other.” “Students were able to manage tasks without teacher intervention. They were more confident in planning and executing tasks. ‘OK, you get the books, you get the materials, and I'll read the directions.’”
Greater respect for each other
The experience of working in teams also resulted in students developing greater respect for each other. “We learned to work together, and rely on each other. We also learned to respect each other,” wrote one student. Another student very specifically linked teamwork to greater mutual respect, saying, “I definitely think that working in teams has helped me cooperate and work together more effectively with other kids. We learned to give each other our attention during a lesson in class and to listen to other opinions, not only our own.”
Other students echoed this sentiment, writing that, “Working in teams has affected me and my classmates because we learned how to listen to each others’ ideas and try not to hurt their feelings,” “When they need to say something I let them say it,” and, “Now it is fun being with them because you get to hear different points of view about each other.”
For one student, working together gave a clear insight into differences: “I figured out that not everyone can work as fast or think as fast as other people. I have learned to respect that.”
Teachers also noticed greater respect between students, as evidenced by their agreement with Survey Question 8 (graph above), “My students showed more respect for each other after the farm program than they did before.” 63% of respondents “strongly agreed” and 34% “tended to agree”.
Summary of improved relationships among students
Many students appear to come back from the farm with many new social bonds amongst their peers, and improvements to many essential life skills for living and working with each other individually and in groups.
When asked how the farm experience translated to the classroom, approximately 70% of teachers commented in some way about improvements to the classroom climate as a result of changes to the social dynamic. They referred specifically to better teamwork and a safer, more comfortable and cooperative learning environment in the classroom.
The shared farm experience also gave some teachers a touchstone to refer back to when needing to remind students of the many lessons they learned at the farm and to keep those alive in the classroom.
In addition to the variety of improved social dynamics discussed above, the farm environment and the high expectations set for the students during their stay at the farm helped many students develop a useful and transferable set of conflict resolution skills. The need to complete chores that required concerted teamwork forced the students to reconcile issues, which in turn created better teamwork. These teacher reports illustrate the types of changes students experienced in their ability to resolve conflicts:
“Through their experiences at the farm I started to see a lot less arguing and much more 'talking things out.' At the age of 11, when my students disagreed with one another they tended to argue and then get angry. They had a tremendous problem with communicating and solving conflicts peacefully. Through activities at the farm they learned that arguing wasn't going to help them complete their tasks at hand. They began to talk out problems, take turns, and speak to one another more kindly which not only helped them in conflict resolution, but paved the path for them to build their teamwork and cooperation skills.” “My students definitely learned to talk things out more as opposed to reacting harshly or fighting. Some of my students were very intelligent but had very poor social skills. They did not relate or play well with others. Focusing on a goal somewhat changed that. They realized that everyone needs assistance to complete a large job.”
“I have watched children who were not always that cooperative work together to get some very difficult tasks completed. Children who fought at school never fight at the farm. When they do have conflicts they really work to resolve them. The children also become more polite and have better manners at the farm. They have to eat together, clean up after themselves and learn how get along with many different people during the week.”
Teacher responses to Survey Questions 10 (see above), “My students improved at handling disagreements with each other.” and 11 (left), “My students resolved conflicts better as a result of the farm experience.” reflect general agreement that the farm week had a positive effect on students’ abilities to resolve conflicts.
Reponses on the student surveys confirm the teachers’ stories. When asked “Do you think the experience of working in teams at the farm has helped you resolve conflicts more effectively with other kids since the trip?” 63% of the students responded “Yes.” About one third of the students who responded no said it was because they did not have any conflicts. Students detailed a number of ways in which the experience helped them with conflicts, including developing greater empathy for others, the improved interpersonal climate described above, specific skills they had learned, and the need for harmony to accomplish the chores at hand.
Having the opportunity to learn about each others’ feelings helped some of the students get along. As one wrote, “There were people that I did not really like and people that I did not know well. I have gotten to know them better and understand their feelings.” Other students shared similar sentiments about the sometimes trying experience of working together such as, “It has helped me work with kids because now I understand both sides of the story,” “You can learn how other people feel,” “It helped me to see the other side of the person I had conflicts with,” and, “You get to know the person and try to work things out with them.”
Three students explained how greater feelings of friendship for their classmates led to less conflict.
“We help out friends so they won't get in trouble.”
“Because we got along better [after the farm experience] we knew how to solve our problems better.”
“Since we got so much closer we know now what is wrong with some people so we can calm
them down easier.”
A number of students mentioned learning specific skills for dealing with conflicts:
“Now we know just talking it out with someone works better because we learn the reason we might have been arguing was petty.”
“Now we can always talk in a calm and positive way.”
“If we argue we resolve the conflict by letting people share their ideas.”
“I think it helped because I can negotiate better.”
“Now I can walk away from a fight instead of instigating it.”
“I used to start many fights when I was angry. The farm showed me taking you mind off something helps.”
“I learned how to get away from all the drama and how to come down and focus on something else.”
“Now in a problem I just handle the situation: be the first to say sorry, work it out by saying our wrongs in the situation, and never let it happen again.”
“When somebody got in a conflict with me one of the farmers would help us solve it. She would say ‘calm down, sit down, and talk about it’. So now I tell other people to do that when we are in the middle of a conflict” In addition to working well together at the farm, teachers described how these skills were carried back to the classroom setting. One teacher asserted that, “The children who attended the farm were less apt to ask for help immediately when confronted with a conflict [back in the classroom.] They tried a few different strategies on their own, and rarely had to ask the teacher for assistance.” Another remarked that, “If a conflict arises, some of my children would actually say 'You need to talk it out.' This is a very big step!”
Conflict resolution is an important skill for success in and out of the classroom for all students, not just those who come from challenging school or home environments. Judging by the observations of students and teachers, the week at Spring Brook Farm provided the students a safe environment to learn and practice conflict resolution skills.
Improved student-teacher relationships
“Me and my teacher are best friends She taught me to get over my fear of insects and arachnids and to work hard every day to get things done.”
Spending a week at the farm living and working with their students allowed teachers an opportunity to strengthen relationships with their students in ways not possible in the school setting. Responses to Question 13 (graph below), “I appreciate my students more since going to the farm with them.” offer evidence that many teachers thought the trip helped them see their students in a new light. 76% of teachers “strongly agreed.”
As one teacher wrote, “The farm trip definitely facilitates growth in relationships that is harder to reach in one's interactions with students in the school. I always feel like I leave the farm having developed a strong connection with the students that went on the trip. There are shared experiences and stories that allow for better interactions.”
The idea that shared experiences allow for better interactions between student and teacher is further elucidated by other teachers who wrote:
“Because I shared the experience with them, I feel that they see me differently…outside of the classroom in a more relaxed, real world setting, they recognize that I am multidimensional and I think that does earn a bit more respect from them.”
“My students and I certainly related to one another differently, having seen one another in a different light. I was able to refer back to our experiences at the farm often during a lesson or in a situation when dealing with a student.”
“The students have much better relationships with me, and through me with teachers in our school in general after the farm trip. Often they'll refer to events at the farm as examples of how 'tight' they are to each other and to me.”
“The years I attended the farm, the students and I had a much closer bond. They have graduated and since continuously come back to visit to see me and discuss their accomplishments. When they do, they usually bring up something that happened on the farm.”
Teacher responses to Survey Question 5, “My students were more cooperative with me after the farm program than they were before they went.” hint at some of the benefits of improved relationships with students. Teachers also generally agreed that students listened to them better after the farm program.
Students also reported improved relationships with their teachers. When asked, “Do you think your trip to the farm affected the way you get/got along with the teacher you went with?” 59% responded that there had been a positive change. Of the 39% that reported no change, approximately one third of them said they had a good relationship with their teacher prior to the farm trip.
“Teachers do a lot of things to help you in life so you owe them respect.”
As a result of getting to know their teachers outside of the classroom, many students reported greater affinity for and connection with their teachers, more in-depth awareness of teacher’s personal qualities, greater respect for their teachers, and in some cases admiration for skills the teachers deployed on the farm.
Some students described a much closer personal connection with the teacher. “Sleeping in the same hallway made me feel more safe with the teachers. Now they feel like relatives to me.” Others wrote that at the farm a teacher “…treated me like a father,” and, “I know that away from school she is like a mother.”
Others simply described greater affection for their teachers, with comments like, “I liked them more,” “At the farm we were like friends,” “My teachers really opened up to me and my classmates,” and “She completely understands me.”
While at the farm, away from the classroom environment, many students learned about the “lighter” side of their teachers. Typical comments about this included:
“I did not know she was that nice.”
“I noticed that my teacher has a cool side to her.”
“I always thought that [teachers] don't have fun but then they started dancing and listening to hip hop.”
“At the farm I found out the fun sides of all the teachers.”
“I got to know the teacher better, and got to know the real person they are and as a farmer.” Much to one student’s astonishment, “I never knew that teachers were regular people. They actually do everything like we do.”
Positive student-teacher relationships likely play an important role in students’ behavioral success in the classroom and adjustment to school in general. Spending time together at the farm provides a rare in-depth opportunity for the teachers and students to get to know and appreciate each other outside the classroom.
Students’ personal development
Often the first time away from their home and parents, the farm experience challenges the students i “The most important lesson I learned at the farm is that you don’t have to be perfect at anything.”
-Studentn many ways, but the safe and cooperative environment creates numerous opportunities for personal growth. In reflecting on their week at Spring Brook Farm, students expressed great pride in their accomplishments and newly discovered abilities. Based on both student and teacher reports, this section is organized into these three themes:
Changes to students’ self-confidence and self-esteem
Greater willingness to try new things
Greater compassion for animals and others
Self-confidence and self-esteem
Self-esteem and self-confidence are interrelated concepts, and often referred to in tandem. For the purpose of this discussion, we will loosely define 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.
All responding teachers agreed with Survey Question 15 (graph below), “My students demonstrated more self-confidence in positive ways after the farm program than they did before.” (Teachers were specifically asked about positive expressions of self-confidence, because higher self-confidence is not automatically a good thing. For example, an art thief might feel increased self-confidence after a successful heist.)
In teacher and student reports about increases to self-confidence and self-esteem, a number of factors seemed to be involved:
Accomplishment of difficult tasks
Bonding with and feeling responsible for the animals
Positive feedback and attention from the farm staff
Accomplishment of difficult tasks
According to one teacher, “Every time a student experiences something new and is successful, they build self-confidence and self-esteem.” Almost all of the farm activities are new experiences and challenges for the students, and the program is designed so that they will succeed in these tasks.
The comments of other teachers confirm that with the reassurance and coaching of the staff, the students work hard and see the fruits of their labor.
“The students start to realize that there is no failure on the farm. This gives them great confidence. It is an environment where they all can and do succeed.” “Many of our students don't often have opportunities where they feel really helpful.” Teachers were unanimous that accomplishing challenging farm chores was the primary factor in boosting the self-esteem and self-confidence of the students. Students reacted positively to praise for their successes and also “found strengths in themselves that they didn't know they had and then felt really proud.” As one teacher wrote:
Students were impressed with what they were able to accomplish. For some students this was their first experience away from home and they were proud that they could do this. They were often surprised at how hard they could work and what they could accomplish. This made them proud of themselves.
When asked how they felt about what they had accomplished at the farm, many students’ responses reflected feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem:
“I feel like I did what I never could before.”
“I feel that I accomplished more than I thought I could, so it really surprised me.”
“I feel like I am a champion.”
“I feel great, I never thought I could do anything I did at the farm.”
“I felt good, and more confident in myself. I did a lot of things I never thought I would accomplish.”
“I was very glad that I accomplished things that I thought I wouldn't be able to do. I never imagined myself working at a farm.”
“I felt full and whole like a king because to say you could do something is easy, but to do it is something entirely different.”
“I feel that my accomplishments made me better as a person and that I can do more things.”
“I feel proud that I helped around the farm. I also feel like a better person because I made more friends.”
“I feel proud of myself. That was the first time I was ever away from my parents. Now I'm not afraid to be away from my parents.”
“I feel very proud of what I've accomplished. After the wonderful experience I have changed a lot and I feel like a whole new me.”
“I feel proud, because I could do anything I put my mind to.”
“I feel great that I overcame some of my fears and weaknesses”
When asked if they had discovered any new abilities or personal qualities while at the farm, many students also made comments indicating increases to self-confidence and self-esteem:
“I thought I could never milk a cow but I did and it was cool.”
“I discovered that if I worked hard to learn how to do something, I would eventually get the hang of it.”
“Before I went to Spring Brook Farm I thought I was weak. But after the chores, I realized that I'm not weak and that everyone has some kind of strength.”
“I never knew that I could run fast, take care of animals, or garden.”
“I am brave to leave my parents for a week and not call or write a letter.”
“I learned that I should not be scared of animals such as pigs, the cows, or the bull.”
Students clearly took away substantial feelings of accomplishment from their week at the farm. This teacher’s comment neatly summarizes the experience: “It was incredibly empowering. There was a sense of 'if we can do THAT we can do anything.'”
Teachers’ dramatic agreement with Survey Question 17 (graph at right), “My students’ sense of pride in themselves increased while they were at the farm.”, further confirms that the farm experience seems to have a very positive influence on student’s self-esteem.
Bonding with and feeling responsible for the animals
Being a farm-based program, it is unsurprising that the interactions with farm animals left a strong impression on the students. Many of them arrived with significant trepidation about the animals, but it appears that the great majority left the farm not only unafraid of the animals, but very personally attached to them, especially in the case of the baby calves. The students took very seriously their responsibility for the animals, and being given this job seems to have given many students strong feelings of importance and worth.
“I helped out the farm animals and that was the most happy day of my life.”
-Student s one teacher described, “Some students felt really needed around the animals and they got a true sense of worth when they fed the babies their bottles or cleaned out their cages.” Other teachers explained that “The animals rely on the children to take care of them and the children take these tasks very seriously,” and “Students felt a higher sense of responsibility, particularly when they were feeding the animals. They felt important taking care of the animals.” One student discovered that he and his classmates “…work harder when knowing it’s for the sake of the animals.” Another student “…learned to be responsible, because if you aren't responsible the animals die because you didn't feed them.”
The strong impression caring for the animals made on the students appeared in numerous places on the student survey. The most frequently reported “important lesson” students learned on the farm was to take good care of and respect the animals. Students offered comments such as, “Take care of the animals like you take care of yourself,” “I learned that we should treat any animal with care because the need a lot of it,” and, “Animals always come first. We wake up early to feed the animals.”
When asked if they discovered new abilities or personal qualities at the farm, students most frequently responded with their newfound skills at performing animal-related farm chores. Many students seemed to feel that they had a real talent for taking care of animals, as seen in these responses:
“I discovered that I have a way with animals. I get along with animals more than I thought I did.”
“I discovered that I can take good care of animals and have fun with them at the same time.”
“I found out that I love baby calves and that I can take good care of rabbits.”
“I never knew I could get along with animals. I discovered my inner talent.”
“I can handle animals really well.”
“I discovered that calves are calmed when I'm next to them.”
“I learned I was good with animals. The animals loved me and I fell in love with them.” Working with animals had deeper implications for the students than simply the accomplishment of the chores. Overcoming their initial fears of animals, and succeeding in tasks such as milking provided a big confidence boost for many of the students. Taking personal responsibility for numerous facets of the care and feeding of such large animals gave the students feelings of self-worth because of the importance of the task, the personal bonds they formed with the animals, and because many felt it was a hidden talent of which they were previously unaware.
Positive feedback and attention from farm staff
Another self-esteem boosting factor mentioned by a number of teachers was the kind behavior and interest shown to the students by the farm staff. These anecdotes from teachers highlight the value of exposing the students to the caring environment created at Spring Brook Farm:
“The farm staff members are so very nice and kind to our students. They talk to them and show genuine interest in them. On the return trip from one farm experience, one student remarked how surprised he was that the farm staff was so interested in them and talked with them. He said, “They didn't even know me, but they were talking to me and asking me about myself. That was really nice.” Those experiences and interactions have a profound and lasting impact on our students. Many adults in their lives just aren't all that interested in them.”
“Many of my students are from backgrounds and homes that I can't ever imagine a child being raised in. They were relieved and ecstatic to be away from those negative environments and at a place where they had warm, healthy meals and people who cared about them (the loving farm staff).One of my students commented on how it was the first time he had been hugged in years. It is such a valuable experience for these students, some of whom don't make it any further than their neighborhood. It is invaluable to their fragile psyche, and I think for many of them, it is the best thing that has ever happened to them.”
“Such sleep-away opportunities always give students opportunities to mature socially within a safe and nurturing environment. Even in their rooms at night, and around the campfire, the kids felt and shared a lot of love. Some of the students we took had not felt so much love before, especially from adults. Afterwards, they were more receptive to affection, and more generous with it.” “When [staff member] tells our students that they are some of the hardest working students that come up to the farm, you can see them start to glow and gleam. It is a very powerful experience for them. Often, the students feel like they don't have much to offer...to each other, to school or to their community. For them to go to the farm and work hard and feel like they are getting a bunch of things done for the animals and the farm, it is really important.” One teacher commented on how much the input and feedback from the staff really helped students to succeed in their chores, and then to appreciate the real value of what they were accomplishing:
They direct the students in what to do and then allow them to do it on their own. The farm staff is always very supportive and encouraging which has a tremendous positive impact on students. The fact that the students are being told that they are doing such a great job and being thanked for all of their hard work by those who work on a farm everyday, gives them tremendous confidence that they are responsible, successful and capable of accomplishing challenging tasks.
“Farm staff notice and praise students for strengths that they might not have taken ownership of before.”
The importance of the positive environment at the farm can not be understated. For students to build healthy self-confidence, it is helpful that they get immediate and positive feedback about their achievements. Associating strong emotional feelings with the experience likely helps to create a strong memory as well.
Greater willingness to try new things
Greater willingness to try new things is likely a result of increased self-confidence, and a number of teachers observed this in their students. “The students are now more willing to venture outside of their comfort zone. They have a new found interest in exploring and trying new things.” wrote one teacher. Another wrote, “I see this improvement in many of my girls. One became more of a risk taker. On the farm she would cry whenever she had to complete a task. Now she can't wait to try new things.”
A student reported that “The most important lesson that I learned on the farm is that I can try and fail and keep going,” a sentiment supported by a teacher’s comment that “I believe they are more willing to take learning risks as a result of their farm experience.”
Teacher’s responses to Survey Question 16 (graph at left), “My students’ willingness to take on new things increased as a result of the farm program.” indicate general agreement that the farm trip opened up the students to new experiences.
When asked “What was the most important lesson you learned on the farm?”, one student wrote, “To be more open minded about trying new things,” another said it was to “…try new things because you'll never know what you can do,” and another wrote “Before I went to the farm I didn’t really like farms or farm animals, so I learned that you shouldn't judge something before your have tried it.”
“The most important thing I learned was that animals are just like humans. They co-exist in their own worlds just like we live in ours. They have feelings of fear, love, and excitement just like we do, so we shouldn't kill insects and say ‘It’s just a stupid bug.’”
As described above, many teachers commented on the improved relationships amongst the students. An element of that which was mentioned specifically by a number of teachers was the development of greater compassion for others, often beginning with the animals.
“Often, it brings out a 'caring' side of the students that we might not otherwise see. On one trip to the farm, one of the cows was quite ill…It was really nice to see how much they cared about the cow and worried that she was sick and would be cold at night. They were so proud they got her in the barn.”
“When students worked with the dairy cows and had to sweep the manure some students really struggled with this while others just went with it. Students were able to see who was really struggling and 'cover' for them - they became more compassionate and understanding of each other.”
“I felt that the students felt closer, more like a family. They would anticipate each others needs. I feel that they were more understanding of peers who were less able or different.” Another question on the survey asked students if the week at Spring Brook Farm had changed them in any way. Again, many students remarked about their experiences with the animals. In addition to the boost in self-esteem students got from working with animals it seemed to bring about in some students a greater sense of caring for other beings.
“I learned how to take care of animals, how to respect them. Now that I have experienced the life of a farmer, I care about all of our animals and all of yours!”
“I learned that you have to care for them before they learn to care for you and love you back. (animals)”
“I learned that you shouldn’t just think about yourself. You should think about other people and other animals. You should be thankful for what you have.”
Developing more compassion was just one of the ways in which student experience personal growth at the farm. The many accounts of increases in self-esteem and self-confidence suggest that these are perhaps some of the most important outcomes of the farm program.
Success for students who struggle academically
While definitely a part of the discussion of self-esteem, enough teachers commented specifically on the farm successes of students who don’t do well academically that it is worth mentioning separately.
Freedom from social and academic pressures, a supportive environment, and the hands-on nature of the work were all cited as reasons that these students did so well at the farm. These comments from teachers reflect a number of the ways in which these students thrived at the farm:
“I saw students who struggle academically really shine at the farm. They were able to engage in hands on activities and take the initiative, which often they don't feel comfortable doing in the classroom.” “I have had many students come to farm who were not great at academics who finally felt a sense of accomplishment at the farm that they never got in the classroom. To watch children these kids get awards at the farm and cry when they were leaving is an amazing thing.” “On each of my visits to the farm, there has been at least one student who is less academically strong who becomes respected by class for skills that come to the fore at the farm.” “One student in particular who always got kicked out of class back at school was fearless and really good with animals and his self-esteem grew at the farm. When we got back to school the week after the trip, he was much better behaved and rarely got sent out.” “Students who felt that they were not successful in the traditional terms (doing well in school, behaving well), flourished at the farm. One student in particular has ADD/ADHD and is a behavior problem in class because he can't keep still was a star at the farm. He was always energized and excited, and kept the morale of the other students up.”
“My students realized that everyone has something to offer, even if they are not the smartest in the class. Some of them showed great organizational skills. That was important because some of my students were receiving special ed. services for reading and writing. They had little confidence in school. Other students were aware of it and at times pointed it out. However, some of these same students shone as they problem solved or spearheaded and activity.”
One student response to the question “Do you think your week at Spring Brook Farm changed you in any way?” suggests perhaps a student observing their own improved learning at the farm: “Yes, because I could learn more about animals than reading, math, science, social studies, and so on.”
The farm experience seems especially valuable for these academically challenged students. Being given an opportunity to succeed along with their classmates likely helps them to build self-confidence and self-esteem in many ways, with all the benefits described above.
While the themes discussed above were the focus of the evaluation questions and most prominent in the data, teachers and students commented on other program outcomes that are worth noting.
Broadening of horizons
Numerous teachers commented that many of their students never get out of their home neighborhoods, and as a result had limited worldviews, and limited perceptions of what options might exist in their lives outside of what they knew. As one teacher put it, “Just the fact that they had an experience so different than many of their friends made them begin to understand ways in which life was or could be different.” Another echoed, “It just opened their eyes to an entire world and way of life that they couldn't have imagined prior to the trip.”
Another teacher observed a similar phenomenon, but found it difficult to quantify:
It is something that you can't really explain, but every year that I have gone I've watched the children change for the better in a matter of a day. They get to see a different world. They begin to see new possibilities for themselves. The idea that there is a different way to live, and that people behave differently in this environment is very important. They may live in the city for the rest of their lives, but know they know there are other alternatives.
Many students also offered reflections on how the farm trip had given them new perspectives:
“I just didn't know that there are people who care about cows so much and I think it changed the way I look at things.”
“It changed how I feel about life and the kind of person I want to be.”
“It taught me to look at other people from different places.”
“It made me think about jobs I could do.”
“I felt like a whole different person because in the city you hear about gangs and fights, but at the farm you can just relax. Even though you're working, it's really fun.”
“Well, now I could be a biologist.”
“I learned that being a grownup is really difficult.” Personal experience in a world totally different than the one they were used to left some students with feelings of gratitude:
“It made me be appreciative about the way I live.”
“It made me more grateful for the things I have, especially the food. Farmers work hard to grow crops not only for themselves, but for millions of other people.”
“I learned how to appreciate more what my mom does for me.”
“I learned that you shouldn’t just think about yourself. You should think about other people and other animals. You should be thankful for what you have.”
“I learned to be grateful for what we have. Everything we have comes from scratch and without the supplies we have, especially from nature, we wouldn't have all the things kids love.” For students who don’t often, if ever, get far from where they live, going to Spring Brook Farm is a real eye-opener. Many benefits come simply with the act of experiencing a different way of life.
Numerous other influences on students appeared throughout the data, although either not so prominently or not so correlated by teachers and students to make them suitable for detailed exposition in this report. In most cases these outcomes were not specifically pursued in the survey questions.
Other apparent outcomes of the farm program include:
Greater appreciation and respect for nature; interest in animals and natural world
Greater sense of personal responsibility toward chores at home
Appreciation for hard work and the challenges of agricultural life
Increased interest in a healthy lifestyle
Good behavior during school year, motivated by a desire to participate in farm program
L “One of the most common phrases heard in my classroom is ’Remember on the farm when...’ The farm experience stays with children.”
-Teacher asting value of the farm program
The Farms for City Kids program hopes to instill “values that will last a lifetime.” While this may be hard to measure, many teachers commented on how strong the students’ memories are of the farm experience. Teachers also observed that, for students with whom they remained in contact over a series of years, the bonds formed and lessons learned at the farm seemed to remain intact in the years following the farm visit.
As mentioned above in the section on social dynamics, after the farm trip, teachers and students were able to refer back to the experience to keep the lessons learned there fresh. As one teacher described:
It was a very real, tangible experience that I (and they) could refer back to when we began to fall into old habits--not trying new things, making fun of others, giving up, etc.... The feeling of pride was also something that all other teachers and members of the school community could sense and refer to often. Students also were able to see each other in a situation where they were all new and inexperienced and see each other excel at things that they never would have known was a strength. Students gained a lot of respect not only for themselves but each other and it was easy to refer back to this once we were back in the daily routine of the classroom.
Teachers described how feelings of self-worth remained long after the program:
“We talk about our 'farm family' that came about through this incredibly rich shared experience. The children who have been through it light up whenever the farm is mentioned. It remains a place in their minds & hearts where they were valued for being responsible and productive - a place where they felt good about themselves and the team of which they were a part.” “Many of my students continued to speak of this experience several years after it was over. Some have not had similar experiences since then but they continue to talk about this and to many they consider it the best experience of their lives. The feeling of self importance was huge and really helped them feel relevant.” One teacher wrote that she has “…former students who share stories about what they learned on the farm with their middle school teachers.” Others of the former students “…want to be chaperones when they grow up so they can come back to Spring Brook Farm.”
Clearly the experience of the farm program stays with many of the students who attended, leaving them with social skills to apply in and out of the classroom, new friendships to enjoy, and feelings of accomplishment worthy of recalling and sharing with others.