Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

Tips for running an internship program

Life Lab Internships

Engaging University Students in Local School Gardens: A Toolkit for School Districts, School Garden Support Organizations and Universities

400 Interns and Counting – Working with Interns at The Garden Classroom

August 2011 – Long ago, before the time of higher education, SAT’s and grueling college applications, we would instead dedicate ourselves to a mentor. Apprenticeships took the place of school, giving us a career path guided by another person skilled in the trade that we chose to follow. Todays apprenticeship type experiences often take the form of what we refer to as internships.

A recent study of American universities conducted by U.S. News reports that “Highly ranked schools like the University of Pennsylvania and Duke University claim to have 90 and 75 percent of students completing internships before graduating, respectively. The University of Pittsburgh, a public university that awarded more than 3,800 bachelor’s degrees in the 2008-09 academic years, reported that 72 percent of those students worked as interns before graduating. ”

If you are running a school garden or other type of educational program recruiting interns for specific projects may be a very beneficial endeavor for both you and the intern.

Here at Life Lab, we have conducted a small survey of our own, hoping to gather information on the impact an internship can hold for our interns. The ripple effect of what started here at The Garden Classroom is astounding when we look at the results of our post intern surveys.

Since 2001 we have trained over 400 interns. These interns can be from America or alternatively from abroad, as we have some who travel over using a J-1 Visa and do their internship with us. The number of interns we rely upon each year has more than doubled so we feel fortunate to have a large pool to draw on. Most start out by simply leading groups of children around the garden, but some end up conducting their senior exit projects with us, creating outstanding and valuable tools such as the California Statewide School Garden Survey, educational videos, and a multitude of interpretive onsite signage projects. Many of them have gone on to spread the Life Lab love and work at other programs, create their own programs, or bring more environmental education into their diverse professions. We help to create the values for future good work.

When asked how our internship shaped future career plans, we received a multitude of answers, indicating the depth of Life Lab’s reach. One person decided to apply for the Teacher Credential Program at San Jose State University, while another person went on to graduate from the same program and now teaches science full time, combining their experience with environmental studies and education.

Lindsay Colombero, a Spring 2006 intern, writes,
“I’m actually a masters of education student at University of Washington, doing my thesis project on the importance of outdoor and garden curriculum. Life Lab was my inspiration! Before UW, I worked and studied at Island Wood on Bainbridge Island, WA and my experience with Life Lab got me that position – thanks!!!!”

Another past intern had this to say,
“After my internship I taught outdoor education at a camp for fifth grade classes. I ended up as the Life Lab garden coordinator at Live Oak Elementary School… I loved it so much I went into teaching and am now a Waldorf Teacher at a Charter school teaching third grade where the curriculum is focused on farming. I use my Life Lab training and experience almost every day of my life.”

For anyone, a job experience can shape who you are and who you become. Some of the people that end up working with us, regardless of the brevity of an internship, find themselves changed by the time spent.

Here is one example of this positive impact,
“As a result of being an intern at Life Lab, the world of organic agriculture and sustainable food systems opened up for me. Coming from a cattle-ranching family in Kansas, I was very familiar with conventional agriculture, but had no idea what the word “organic” even meant until I began working at Life Lab. Now I have a completely different perspective on the food that I eat and try to share my knowledge with others, even my reluctant family members.”

Most of the interns that responded to our survey were eager to share their experiences about their time with us, and many had great insight about how Life Lab measures up in the wide world of environmental education.
“This program really integrates so many things. It not only teaches elementary students about ecology and where their food comes from, but also helps college students get hands-on teaching experience. I have seen quite a few similar programs now, and nothing quite compares. Thank you for all your hard work and enthusiasm!”

Here are some tips from Life Lab’s Garden Education Coordinator, Amy Carlson, on recruiting and working with our environmental education interns:

• Connect with a local college or university. Seek out departments related to your work, and talk to their internship coordinators (or faculty) about the internship needs of their students. Here at the Garden Classroom, the majority of our interns come from the Environmental Studies Department at UCSC; we have also had interns from Cabrillo College, from the Horticulture Department and Early Childhood Education Department, and from a few more distant schools. All of these students were required to complete internships, so we build our internships around their departments’ requirements (length of commitment, number of hours per week, any project requirements).

• Although not exactly an internship, the Federal Workstudy Program provides low cost student employees available to work a non-profit organizations and schools. Check with your local college or university to see if they place workstudy students in your area.

• Divide your year into “seasons” that correlate with the students’ semesters or quarters. Conduct intern training at the beginning of each season (semester/quarter), and celebrate your last week with interns the week before finals begin.

• If you are working with community volunteers only, it is still a good idea to have set times of the year that training takes place, so that you are not constantly spending time training new interns.

• Clearly outline the job description, hours, and work routine for your interns, and use this information for recruiting and training interns. If needed, create two or more distinct job descriptions for different types of interns (i.e., education interns vs. gardening interns), including previous experience required, if any.

• Decide how you will fill your intern spots– will it be first-come, first-served, or will you interview applicants? How many interns do you need? Consider adding a small stipend to attract a larger applicant pool.

• Create a training manual for your interns, with plenty of good background info and tips for doing the work successfully. For example, our intern training manual has information about our garden & farm, organic farming in general, and lots of tips for teaching successfully in an outdoor setting.

• When considering tasks for your interns, make sure they get some knowledge, skill, or other valuable experience out of what they are doing. For example, weeding all day is not a good choice for an intern, at least not one who is working without pay. However, weeding an area, building a raised bed there, and helping install irrigation is a great set of tasks for an intern who will come away with new abilities.

• When working with interns on a steady basis, expect to spend time also giving job references and writing letters of recommendation for past interns.

• Set up a regular time each day your interns are there to check in with them and find out how things went that day, to give them feedback, and ask how they are feeling about their progress (for example, ask them to share with the group, “What’s one thing you’re happy to have accomplished in your teaching? What’s something you want to continue to work on?”). Plan to provide supervision and direction throughout the project.

• When you give feedback to interns, begin and end with specific positives, and in the middle give your suggestion(s) for improvement, perhaps in such terms as “What if next time you try this…?”

• Invite interns to also share their suggestions for improvement of your program.

• Provide enriching experiences for your interns on a regular basis. Bring in an interesting article to discuss, a new game/skill to teach them, a quote, or a new food to try– whatever relates to your work.

• Be informed about other options for jobs or other internships in your field, so you have good suggestions for interns who ask about where they might go next.

• Consider an occasional field trip with your interns to a related place or like-minded organization. For example, we take our interns to work and observe in a school garden for a day.

• If an intern will be taking on a project other than their usual daily tasks, set up a weekly check-in time and a timeline for completion of the project, to keep it on track.
We have a mutual beneficial relationship with our university interns. Our programs wouldn’t be what they are without them. These words from a past intern sum up how she felt about her experience:

“Life Lab is like a secret treasure chest on campus full of knowledge, beauty, and silly kids and chickens. When you find it, you feel like it’s only yours but then you see what a wonderful extended community you just stumbled into and it alone is worth the price of tuition, if you have to put a price on it.”

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2 days ago

Life Lab

The Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation is proudly celebrating five years of supporting nonprofits that teach students and communities about the goodness of fresh ingredients. This year, the Foundation awarded more than 110 Neighborhood Grants to nonprofit organizations, with Life Lab being one of them!

We are grateful for the continued support from Sprouts Healthy Communities Foundation. Life Lab is honored to have been chosen as a recipient of the Neighborhood Grants. Our partnership reflects Sprouts Farmers Market’s core values of education, environmental stewardship, and nutrition.

With this support we have been able to launch and sustain, a robust directory of easy to use activities that require no screen time, promote healthy eating and inspires creativity. This site is perfect for teachers and parents alike! has garnished over 7k users from all over the world, in almost every continent, since our launch in April.

Sprouts Farmers Market

#sproutsfarmersmarket #MyLifelab #local #nonprofit See MoreSee Less

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7 days ago

Life Lab

🌱 Join the SGSO Leadership Institute 🌱

Every year, we host a School Garden Support Organization Leadership Institute to provide an opportunity for school garden professionals from across the country to collaborate, learn from one another, and develop resources to share with a national audience. Collectively, SGSO Institute participants have improved their own work while also sharing ideas and resources to help others do the same.

In the face of the myriad challenges of 2020, all of you in SGSOs across the country are innovating in creative and inspiring ways to sustain and enhance garden education for their students. We are eager for other SGSOs to learn from you! With generous support from Whole Kids Foundation , we are pleased to be able to provide stipends for peoples’ contributions to these Working Groups.

This year’s SGSO Institute is open to newcomers and SGSO Institute Alumni!

🚨 Applications are due November 6, 2020 🚨

To learn more about this exciting opportunity and apply, visit: See MoreSee Less

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1 week ago

Life Lab

Life Lab celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day with special recognition of the land on which our gardens grow and by sharing beautiful family friendly resources highlighting indigenous storytelling and efforts of Native peoples to reclaim food sovereignty, cultural identity, and native land stewardship.

The Life Lab Land Acknowledgement, now shared at all formal gatherings in our Garden Classroom on the UCSC campus:

“The land on which we gather is the unceded territory of the Awaswas-speaking Uypi Tribe. The Amah Mutsun Tribal Band, comprised of the descendants of indigenous people taken to missions Santa Cruz and San Juan Bautista during Spanish colonization of the Central Coast, is today working hard to restore traditional stewardship practices on these lands and heal from historical trauma.”

*Land acknowledgement developed in partnership with the
Amah Mutsun Tribal Band Chairman and the Amah Mutsun
Relearning Program at the UCSC Arboretum.

Learn more about the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band and the

Life Lab is honored to support the film, GATHER (Gather) with a
FREE virtual screening on October 30th at 7pm

📷 credit: Amah Mutsun Land Trust website See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Looking for some #garden #joy? Join us for a sweet sharing of Life Lab Reimagined: program updates, inspired learning, and community at our Fall Benefit this Saturday at 10:30am 🌱Register at 🌱Learn about our New Curriculum, New Life Lab Educator Certification Program, New Staff, and New Garden Additions👀Plus all the beautiful work we’re doing to support school garden education locally and nationally🌻Participants are automatically eligible to win a raffle prize courtesy of @synergyclothing ❤️ #schoolgarden #education #kisstheground #teachtheyouth #landstewardship #fundraiser See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

It’s Harvest Festival Week🌻happening virtually October 5-10th. A collaboration between the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems UCSC CASFS Farm Life Lab​, and students of UCSC Food Systems Working Group
Mark your calendar! The week-long series is full of fun virtual activities for all ages, with live streamed musical performances, a lecture on agroecology from a panel of experts, and ending the week with Life Lab’s #Funtastic Fall Benefit highlighting new program updates and staff/garden additions. Register at

Visit for a complete schedule of events and registration instructions.

Monday, October 5
7:00 PM – 7:45 PM
Life Lab Backyard Chickens Q&A

Tuesday, October 6
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Saving Seeds, Sustaining Our Communities

Wednesday, October 7
1:30 PM – 2:45 PM
The evolution of agroecology as a practice, a research discipline, and a social movement

7:00 PM – 7:45 PM
Nurture Yourselves With Nature!

Thursday, October 8
4:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Cider Donut Workshop and The Everything Apple Panel

6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Celebrating Queers and Nature

7:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Giant Green Anemone! Going Deep Into Local Tide Pool Explorations

Friday, October 9
12:00 PM – 2:00 PM
Planting Seeds For Success: Community Connections to Water Your Garden for Wellness!

2:30 PM – 4:00 PM
What is the Food Systems Working Group and what does it do?

5:00 PM – 7:30 PM
Rachel Carson Garden Cooking + Poetry Workshop/Mic!

Saturday, October 10
10:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Life Lab Fall Benefit Gathering
#schoolgardens #gardeneducation #lifelab #harvest #gratitude See MoreSee Less

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4 weeks ago

Life Lab

Happy weekend everyone ☀️Enjoy this sweet share of the UCSC Farm featuring Life Lab 🌱and our chickens! 🐓We look forward to sharing more with all of you as part of our upcoming Fall Benefit on October 10th. Register at See MoreSee Less

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4 weeks ago

Life Lab

In celebration of the Fall Equinox 🍁we are excited to share a poignant new film called Kiss the Ground Movie🌱Life Lab is honored to have partnered with Kiss the Ground to develop middle school curriculum and accompanying training video for educators, focused on the process of capturing and storing carbon in living organisms such as soil, plants and algae.🌿

This hopeful film showcases part of the solution to climate change that is right under our feet: biosequestration in the soil. Life Lab invites you to join a Global Watch Party for the film, followed by a live Q and A at 6pm PST / 9pm EST. For more info, go to Kiss the Ground Movie 🌍 #Lifelab #regenerativeagriculture #schoolgardens #soilhealth #earthactivist #climatechangesolutions See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

It’s World Gratitude Day! 💐Life Lab is grateful for our community and to continue our 40+ year mission of cultivating children’s love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden based education🌱#life lab #schoolgardens #education #worldgratitudeday #gratitude See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

Join us on October 10th at 10:30am for Life Lab’s Fall Benefit: A Celebration of Learning and Community.
Register at
This virtual event includes a tour of Life Lab’s evolving work and vision. Plus we have a surprise announcement! We are thankful for your encouragement and support as a member of our Life Lab community. Despite the challenges of this unprecedented year, Life Lab is moving forward with grace and creative innovation. The events of this season have provided opportunities to support our local community and national networks in new ways, expand our reach through virtual connections, and dive more deeply into justice and equity in all of our work. We are strengthening the roots that feed Life Lab programs as we continue to transform the Nature of Education. Continued cultivation of children’s love for learning and connections with healthy food and nature during COVID is essential and brings hope, wonder, and a much needed breath of fresh air. We are excited to share the inspiring work of our dedicated staff with you! #gratitude #schoolgardens #education #lifelab #fundraiser #gardens
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1 month ago

Life Lab

🚨Join us TODAY at 11am PST🚨

💚Bringing Social Emotional Learning and
Mindfulness Education to Your Work💚

Join Sheri S. Dollin, M.Ed., Educational Consultant and Mindfulness Facilitator, and Sunny Wight, Co-Founder of Mindfulness First, for an overview of mindfulness and Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in the distance learning setting.

Together, we will look at how an understanding of trauma, mindfulness and SEL can help us to manage stress while nurturing the scientifically proven “protective factors” that help prevent and manage trauma and mental health issues both for ourselves and our students.

We will specifically learn about the brain science of stress, and practice mindfulness techniques you can teach to your students. We’ll also take a look at Mindfulness First’s synchronous and asynchronous online work, and quickly understand that it’s easier than we think to integrate mindfulness and SEL into online classrooms. Bring: something to draw with and a piece of paper, for Mindful Art.

For more information and to register click the link below See MoreSee Less

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Stock up your Garden Classroom

Life Lab 40th
Life Lab’s 40th Gala – Sunday, October 13th  Celebrate 40 years of bringing learning to life in gardens. Learn more  
Life Lab's 40th Gala
Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.
Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps
Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.
Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary
Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.
Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom
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