California Educator

August/September 2023

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grader is in the shape of a tree, with the trunk and branches forming walkways and the the abundant "leaves" being the plants; it's visible on Google Earth. Another has a circular table in the center, with triangular areas for fruit and vegeta- ble plants shooting out so they resemble sun rays. "Kids are so imaginative," de Alba says. The gardens let students "leave a mark in a positive way. Kids can see our trust in them — 'here are our ideas and you [adults] allow them to come to fruition.' That's powerful for them." De Alba's overall teaching is centered on developing the whole child and helping learners discover their gifts and talents while focusing on relevant issues in their community — his community. Born and raised in Dos Palos, "I grew up in same type of environment and conditions as my students." While Los Banos, a short distance away and now his home, has become a bit of a Silicon Valley commuter town, Miano Elementary serves a high number of socioeconomically disadvantaged and English language learners, whose lives mirror de Alba's as a child of Mexican immigrants. He has spent the past 22 years teaching at Miano, and also researching and developing STEM and social studies programs focused on rural communities. The gardens com- bine education with the livelihood and expertise of many students' families in mind, furthering his aim to reduce inequities in K-12 STEM education. "I want to give these kids every opportunity to get to the next level, that's how I see my role as an educator," he says. De Alba, who with his wife and fellow Miano teacher Eliane have two daughters (Linda and Ema), spends a lot of his own funds to keep the gardens running. In addition to securing occasional grants, he and his students pick up extra cash by recycling bottles and cans. Organic fertilizers and amendments alone, he says, cost almost $1,000 a year. The gardens are open to all Miano educators and their students but since it is a teacher-led project and not maintained by the school district, de Alba relies on teachers, students and parents to help care for them. To him, it's all worth the time and money. He notes that the former student he ran into in Home Depot runs a landscap- ing business — an outcome influenced, perhaps, by her time at Miano. "When I was a kid, my mama used to make me water all her plants and I hated that daily chore," he recalls. " Then when I went to college, I missed it and bought plants to care for. This is a perfect example of the power of experience; you never know when something you may have not wanted to do changes your perspective and provides unexpected joy. " The gardens now bring happiness to my life, and I hope to instill this same emotion in the students I serve." IFT Grants The mission of CTA's Institute for Teaching is to enhance, support and sustain high-quality teaching and public schools for all California students. IFT awards grants directly to CTA mem- bers and local chapters to help fund their innovative ideas and projects that are teacher-driven and based on what is working and successful in our schools and classrooms. To date, IFT — through CTA members' dues — has funded 569 grant projects totaling more than $6.7 million. All CTA members are eligible to apply for an Educator grant (up to $5,000) or an Impact grant (up to $20,000). Applications for next year open Dec. 1, 2023. See more at "I want these kids to see their school as their own," de Alba says. 14 Spotlight

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