The teachers at La Canada Elementary recently came up with a new way to reward students for excellence in reading comprehension. The students with a high number of AR points will be given the title of Master Gardener for a day. The Master Gardeners have a morning off from their regular class schedule and spend time in the garden with their Garden Educator. I was honored to have two of my former garden students win the first Master Gardener titles.
Elizabeth Twomey and Chelsea Berra shadowed and assisted me as I went about my day on February 5th. Their focus and resourcefulness were appreciated as we maneuvered two first and one second grade class through a bug and plant observation lesson that included pastel drawings. They had patience and a sense of humor with the younger children as they handed out art supplies and organized completed works of art. Their previous skills in planting, properly spacing and watering new vegetable starts came in handy when they helped a fourth grade class fill beds with lettuce plants for the salad bar. The girls had a full day and I was truly proud of their maturity and poise with younger students. It won’t be long before I have more students joining me for the day in the garden. One excited fifth grader announced, “Only fifty more points and I will be a Master Gardener!”
With my rookie year behind me, I am really enjoying my second year as a Garden Educator/Manager (GEM) at La Canada Elementary in Lompoc. The faculty and students have been really wonderful and receptive as I have put forth effort to build the garden program there. I have more help than I could ever ask for during recess breaks with up to twenty eager helpers at a time. These students make my job enjoyable. I love their enthusiasm and curiosity as we work together in the garden. I am ever so thankful for the presence of each child that spends their free time with me. They are truly the gems!
When I started my job as Garden Educator at La Canada School I was very optimistic and enthused about my position. I recruited eight classes to participate in the the garden. We planted up seven odd garden beds, staked in a scarecrow that wore a special red, white and blue wig the students chose and we were ready to watch our plants grow. Then came the vandalism. It started with the scarecrow on the roof, then the pea teepee was pulled out and then the final blow, our prize crops were being up rooted and tossed around. It was getting really hard to remain optimistic for my students and we were all pretty discouraged. When I sought advice on how to deal with vandalism I was told that I needed to get the faculty and students on my side. This seemed like an unreachable goal because of the population of our school with about seven hundred students. Then the answer came to me one Tuesday morning while I was working in my daughter’s class. We were all tuned into the announcements which can be entertaining at La Canada. I then realized that for these few minutes every person on campus tunes in, students, teachers, cafeteria staff,and maintenance personnel. I found a place to use my voice. I really wasn’t thrilled at first with the thought of using the microphone. It can be a little intimidating unless you love hearing yourself talk. I had to put my fears aside because I had a garden to save! I think my voice did a fluttery thing the first time. It was really a bit awkward, but each month my garden report got a little smoother. In two months I was coaching the students that had announcements after me. I began by acknowledging the students that helped in the garden and I asked students to report anyone that harmed the garden. The greatest reward has been that the vandalism has almost completely stopped. Now that I’m not focused on vandalism I can use my time on the mic to announce work days, encourage kids to try new foods in the cafeteria or invite everyone out to see what’s growing in the school garden.
I have been working with a 6th grade class at La Canada School for two months now. They had been assigned by their teacher Ms. Wallace a project of maintaining a native garden by the school library. The bonus was that there were several vegetable beds adjacent to the garden. The vegetable beds had not been used for over five years and I look forward to seeing them thriving again. Ms. Wallace’s class became hard workers once they felt connected with what they were doing. I named their project The Stewardship Project and I explained the importance and responsibility of maintaining the garden. We had two weekend work days. One work day was a success with lots of attendees and the other was not well attended. I have enjoyed the enthusiasm from this class that once seemed a bit rowdy and not always focused. Many of the students connected with the process of taking care of a natural environment. I think this is such a positive experience for children of this age on the verge of becoming young adults. To nurture and care for a living environment teaches them to care for themselves. My hope is that they will carry this experience of taking care of a school garden out into the world and make decisions that will support the care of the world community and earth.