On many mornings in April, May, and June, the excited voices of Bishop Elementary School third graders could be heard around the block as they rounded the corner, en route to Eastern Sierra Land Trust’s Native Plant and Pollinator Demonstration Garden.

A Bishop Elementary School third-grader waters her sunflower seed after carefully planting it in the ground.

A Bishop Elementary School third-grader waters her sunflower seed.

When they reached their destination, they’d rush over to a strip of dirt they’ve been tending all spring. Each kid would excitedly scan the row of popsicle sticks to find his or her name, and subsequently, their sunflower sprout – growing taller every day.

A number of students spent five weeks this spring visiting the ESLT garden regularly as part of ESLT’s Sunflower Garden Project. Kids from three different 3rd grade classes nurtured and tracked the growth of their sunflowers, all while learning about pollinators and the Earth’s natural cycles through educational games and activities.

During the the last week of school, we wrapped up the Sunflower Garden Project for the year with a “Garden Party” for each class. Students painted flower pots, snacked on almond butter and apples, and played jeopardy – answering questions like, “what do butterflies use to harvest nectar?” It put a smile on my face to hear a chorus of young voices shout, “Proboscis!”

With almond butter smeared on their chins and fingers sticky with paint, the kids would proudly show off the works of art they painted on their flower pots. Some were decorated in mountain scenery, while others displayed images of favorite flowers from their gardens at home.

Trenton, Trevor and their classmates water their sunflowers and tracked their growth.

Trenton, Trevor and classmates water their sunflowers and track their growth.

The Bishop Elementary School students weren’t the only kids to experience hands-on learning about pollinators this spring. Callie Peakes, leader of the 4-H Sunflowers, also reached out to ESLT to ask if I could work with her kids for a session. I played a fun game with them called the “Munching Mouth Parts,” in which the kids acted out the different ways in which bees, butterflies, flies, and ladybugs collect nectar.

I also worked with Emily Underkoffler to teach Mammoth Elementary School’s two 2nd grade classes all about pollinators. During the presentation, the kids teemed with enthusiasm for native bees, and all enjoyed participating in pollinator-themed games and activities. I was blown away by their thoughtful questions, such as: “what if we made a place for the native bees to be and brought them there?” As a language immersion class, they were even teaching me bee-related Spanish vocabulary! Abejas, colmena, flor…

Kids in Victoria Hamilton's 3rd grade Bishop Elementary School Class proudly show off their painted flower pots at their Garden Party.

Seen here in ESLT’s backyard, kids in Victoria Hamilton’s 3rd grade Class proudly show off their painted flower pots at their Garden Party.

As the saying goes, “It takes a village…” and in this case, it takes a village to save our native pollinators. We’re thankful that educators like Callie and Emily have reached out to us for help incorporating pollinator education into their busy curriculums.

Passing the knowledge of pollinators on to the next generation is vitally important, because it’s bees, butterflies, and other pollinators like these that keep the Eastern Sierra blooming. From wildflowers to working farms, our region’s beauty and productivity relies on pollinators – and it’s everyone’s responsibility to do what we can to keep them healthy.

Watching the glow of enthusiasm grow ever brighter in these kids’ eyes has given renewed hope to our efforts to keep our Eastern Sierra lands blooming and beautiful for generations to come.

Catherine in Sunflower Garden

ESLT Education Coordinator and AmeriCorps Member, Catherine Tao, has enjoyed watching her Sunflower Garden Project students learn and grow this spring. And their little sunflower sprouts, too – stop by our office later this summer to see them in bloom!