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Gardening chores instead of detention  : a school’s initiative to limit school dropout and raise awareness of nature among young students.

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At the Pierre Mendès France secondary school in Paris, the punishments attributed to the dissipated students are rather original. These are gardening chores designed to limit school drop-out rates while raising young people’s awareness of nature and a taste for effort. Résultat : students are asking for more and some have even found their vocation.

Blah, blah, blah, blah. Crédits : Veni Verdi

In the Parisian college Pierre Mendès France, the pupils get “punishments”… which are not really punishments. For the past three years, this establishment located in the 20th arrondissement has been experimenting with an innovative solution to limit dropping out scolaire : assigning gardening work instead of the traditional hours of detention and other sanctions, relays Le Figaro.

Something wrong with discipline ? The child is sent to plough the land or grow vegetables, with the parents’ agreement and outside school time. Objectif  : to set the students back on the right path by giving them “corrections” that make sense.

Schoolchildren benefit from 4 500 m2 of green spaces that have been converted into an urban farm. There is a vegetable garden, 200 fruit trees, a pond, and even a chicken coop. There is plenty to occupy the 700 pupils of this secondary school, classified as a “Priority Education Network” (REP), which takes in children with social and educational difficulties.

The institution has implemented these “accountability measures” with the Veni Verdi association, whose objective is to create gardens in urban areas. The latter ensures the maintenance of the gigantic farm, with the regular help of young people. The chores are personalized according to the behavior of élève : if he needs to let off steam, he can, for example, move earth. And if he needs to concentrate instead, he’ll be directed to the plantation.

An effective initiative

This bold initiative seems to carry its fruits  : “In total, about 30 students were caught up.”says the college’s principal assistant, Nathalie Couégnas. The little hands gardeners discover manual activities, develop a taste for effort, and become aware of nature and the environment. Young people who sometimes drop out of school or come from disadvantaged backgrounds also find the pleasure of learning. It is also a way to put these children, who rarely leave the city, in the shade, or simply to offer them a moment of peace and quiet.

The main interested parties are won over. Evidence is, after being coerced, “some come back… for pleasure”enthuses Simon Ronceray, co-responsible for the educational farm. Some 40 children even volunteer several times a week to maintain the gardens and look after the chickens, always outside school hours. Even better, this urban exploitation has given rise to vocations  : some are considering becoming landscape or market gardeners.

The idea has even won over the government  : in October 2017, the college was visited by Ségolène Royal, then Minister of the Environment, Energy and the Sea, and Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, then Minister of National Education, Higher Education and Research.

Crédits : Nicolas Harlet

This initiative could become widespread, especially when we know that the Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer intends to put an end to detention, punishments considered “stupid and mean”.

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