K-­12 Educational Programs in Landscape Architecture

by Arnaldo Cardona, ASLA

images: Arnaldo Cardona

K­-12 Educational Programs in Landscape Architecture: How to Create Clients and Professionals of the Future

As an ASLA member, you have no doubt heard the phrase “K‐12 educational programs.” Why does this phrase keep resurfacing as an issue in landscape architecture? In this article, I will bring to light why this topic is important and worthy of further development.

First, let’s ask ourselves the following:

  • Do people understand what a landscape architect does?
  • Are there many positions in government for the recent graduate that recognize and differentiate the role of landscape architect?
  • What is the most effective way to promote our profession? Spending unlimited money in advertisement and public relations? Or is there a more effective and economical way to promote our profession?
  • Are we creating clients of the future? Are we creating landscape professionals of the future?
  • Are college programs in landscape architecture overwhelmed with applicants, or are some in jeopardy?
  • What are we doing as a profession to broaden our marketability and diversify our profession in non‐traditional roles?
  • How can we work together with other fields or professions to achieve common goals?

How can we expect government agencies to offer more positions in landscape architecture? How can we expect homeowners to hire landscape architects in these times of “do it yourself” TV shows? What can we do to be more effective in the outreach and understanding of the profession?

The answer is education.

This is not a new solution. The architecture education foundation AIA New York has been promoting the architecture profession among K‐12 students for years. As an architect-educator, I myself was an instructor in some of these programs. Even private non‐profit art organizations are implementing K‐12 programs in architecture and/or the built environment. As landscape architects, we are so focused on becoming the “best designers” that sometimes we don’t realize teachers and other educators earn a better salary and benefits in some states than a landscape architect/designer.

Career Discovery vs. Educational Programs

When thinking about K‐12 programs in landscape architecture, what first comes to mind is a program that attracts high school students to pursue a college degree in landscape architecture—but are these the ideal grades to target? Or is it more desirable, if possible, to present sophisticated landscape architecture content to early childhood students?

Furthermore, can we convince principals, teachers, and parents that K‐12 programs in landscape architecture can be relevant for their school community and for what they have to teach?

I believe K‐12 programs in landscape architecture have the best chance for success if they focus on helping educators teach what they have to teach instead of just helping with our agenda of promoting our profession.

So how can we design programs to make them attractive to educators? Easy—we need to think like educators, not like landscape architects.

We need to offer programs that help educators address the following issues, if we want to guarantee the programs’ validity:

  • Helping schools meet their educational standards
  • Integrating school’s curriculum concerns
  • Helping them increase their test scores
  • Learning through hands‐on experiences
  • Helping them develop critical thinking skills
  • Integrating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) as part of their learning experiences
  • Providing continuing education courses equivalent for art, science, math, technology, and vocational teachers

As landscape architects, we are trained to design “a project” but not necessarily to understand the cognitive processes involved. However, in my personal experience working in schools that have partnerships with arts organizations that were implementing programs in architecture, staff members might have a degree in architecture or math, but none have been landscape architects that also hold state teaching licenses. Therefore, some teachers might see some activities as art projects rather than as meaningful instruction time.

images: Arnaldo Cardona

My call is not for criticism, but to redirect current approaches and start discussions on how to make K‐12 educational programs more effective.

Unifying Efforts

If colleges with landscape architecture programs can team up with ASLA and its chapters to unify efforts, then resources to create K‐12 educational programs will be easier to implement and produce more effective results. There are grants that give money to implement innovative educational programs in under-resourced schools. Furthermore, if these programs integrate the teaching of STEM as part of their learning experiences, then educators’ interest will be greater. Higher learning institutions and ASLA and its chapters should lobby with school boards and show interest in networking with their schools. More research on grant writing should also be done.

We need to bring more visibility to our profession, to diversify and broaden our marketability. We need to go where the money is, and there is always money for education. I am glad to say that there has been some genuine interest from previous ASLA presidents in the implementation of K‐12 educational programs; unfortunately, leadership terms are just for a year and efforts have not been consistent from term to term.

We might even see landscape architect‐educators as a new field that can produce careers and an extra source of income in the profession. Implementing K‐12 landscape architecture programs will enable ASLA members to develop more diversification in our field while at the same time promoting interest in our profession.

A Very Personal Journey

The topic of educational programs in landscape architecture is a very personal topic for me. My first bachelor’s degree was a pre‐professional degree in architecture, but while finishing my BSLA degree at City College of New York (1992), I continued a Masters in Art and Art Education (1994) at Teachers College, Columbia University. My masters thesis was a curriculum for high school students in architecture. After this, I became an adjunct professor and taught art and landscape design courses for three years. In 1995 I became a teacher in the New York City public school system and received a Masters in Education from City College of New York in 1998. As part of my thesis, I researched the effects of a curriculum in architecture on improving reading skills among special education students. As a teacher I designed the curriculum of an architectural summer program and after‐school programs. In 2002 I became a District Middle School Coordinator and wrote grants to implement a curricula in art, engineering and architecture in middle schools.

image: Arnaldo Cardona

At the same time I collaborated with AIA Learning by Design as an instructor, later collaborating with the Salvadori Center as an Architect‐Educator.

In 2005 I joined ASLA and took my required continuing education courses at the New Jersey ASLA annual meetings. This opportunity enabled me to meet many ASLA presidents. After sharing with them the idea of creating K‐12 educational programs in landscape architecture, some requested that I submit a proposal. In 2011 and 2015 I submitted to the ASLA presidents proposals for implementing K‐12 educational programs in landscape architecture as part of ASLA.

After working with the New York City public schools I became an adjunct professor teaching education courses and later became a full‐time college instructor in New York City.
Currently, as a retired landscape architect, I am documenting all the lessons I have designed in the field of landscape architecture throughout my career to publish my own book.

I continue to hope that one day ASLA will implement a K‐12 educational program that will bring visibility and longevity to the landscape architecture profession.

For more about ASLA’s career discovery initiatives, please visit asla.org/become.aspx and explore the ASLA Career Discovery and Diversity webpage.

Arnaldo Cardona, ASLA, B. Env. Design, BSLA, M.A. Art Education, M.S. Education, a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects since 2005, is a retired landscape architect and former teacher and college professor in New York City. He is working on a book about K-12 education in landscape architecture.

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