How we adapted ESLT’s Sunflower Kids Garden Program in a school year of unpredictability.
By Gabrielle Tribelli, ESLT Education Coordinator and Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Member
2020-2021 was a school year like no other for students everywhere. Undergoing constant modifications to class structure, size, curriculum, duration, and social-emotional outlets, these scholars built resilient.
So when the regular timing of ESLT’s Sunflower Kids Program was just around the corner in April, I was crossing my fingers and staying current on the latest updates of how the school was functioning. I wanted to continue bringing this program in its seventh year to the third grade students of Bishop Elementary safely. Kay and I met and discussed ideas on how we might move forward safely, and then I had the green light!
The Sunflower Kids Garden Program is a fun, interactive, and educational opportunity for students to practice stewardship by planting sunflowers together and witnessing their growth over about six weeks. The students learn about the importance of pollinators and native plants and get to see why planting for pollinators is vital for our ecosystems all through fun and engaging activities.
From the green light, I started planning with a focus on one word: engaging. A year of Covid made for a challenging time for engagement that I think we all could relate to. I pondered, put myself in kid-sized shoes, and thought about what I’d want out of a garden program like this. What I came to was creativity. I expressed my ideas of a more creative and modified-for-safety Sunflower Kids Program to the amazing teachers we work with and they reassured me that the students have had a tough enough year – a little art and creativity is just what they need.
It was time to get creative myself, because it is a lot easier to build creative lesson plans when your mind is already there. I gave the Sunflower Student Journal that my AmeriCorps predecessors created and that the students use throughout the lessons a creative refresh! I adapted the previous journal and the lessons unfolded along with it.
With the journal, we put creativity in the hands of the students. In the garden classroom, the students began to create the most beautifully colored-in native plants and pollinators and I felt an immediate sense of gratitude for the ability to not only share creative expression, but witness it right before my eyes!
Although this year was different, the modifications and adaptations were an absolute success. As I reflect on this experience to be with kids in the garden and discuss why pollinators and native species are important, I remember that they are already so intelligent. Almost every student raised their hand at least once throughout the course of the program to share a personal story about a plant they’ve grown or cared for, their grandmother’s garden that overgrows with all kinds of pollinators buzzing around, or a neat insect they observed up close the other day. They notice what is important and they love sharing that. And from this, I realized that awareness is the root of stewardship. This is what made the ESLT Sunflower Kids Program of 2021 a creative success!
Photos © Paul Williams