Amid squeals of delight as shovels dug up dirt, the girls planted shrubs and perennials, not just to learn about the environment, but as a symbol of hope.
‘Let’s start them as very little as guardians of their plants and then they become guardians of the planet,” said Lauren Aslin, the head of school of ECS, a private girls school in Westmount, Que.
Aslin says the initiative is called the Garden of Hope and Honey.
“It has two purposes — pedagogical and symbolic. We have spent so much time in the digital world. Right now the natural classroom is critical to all of us,” she said. “The pedagogical purpose is having the children actually experience the land, understand the plants and grow something meaningful that will grow with them. The symbolic is hope and honey.”
The school maintains bees on its roof, which they use to make honey and sell within the school as a fundraiser for scholarships and bursaries.
The hope is the bees will pollinate the flowers the girls planted, helping to create more honey.
“After all we have been through, we all need the hope and honey now,” Aslin said. “This garden symbolizes our ascent out of COVID, the littlest ones in our school planting what will grow up with them.”
The school gardener and landscaper Mike Nizzola helped bring the project to life. He sent his two daughters to the school and says he’s thrilled there is so much emphasis on outside learning as well as inside.
‘If one of them becomes passionate about landscaping or gardening or the environment, that’s terrific,” he said, adding with a laugh, “they are so excited, they are so happy. I think they like this better than math and English.”
Ten-year-old student Priscilla Salvatore admits the past school year wasn’t easy.
“It’s really hard. It’s like I can barely concentrate on anything because my mask is hurting my ears, the sanitizers are ruining my hands,” she said.
She was excited to plant her flowers and looks forward to watching them grow throughout elementary school and even when she moves to the senior school. She’s also hopeful for a better return to school in September.
“I find gardening is fun, and this year we need a lot of hope and flowers bring hope to everyone,” she said.
Parents paid the cost of the flowers and plants through a fundraiser for the school, bringing in $7,500. A Grade 3 entrepreneurship class helped decorate gardening gloves, and each student received a “loot bag” containing gloves, shovels and seeds to bring home.
“I think a really big part of this is learning how to adapt, to be resilient, how to problem-solve creatively,” said Casey Sheriffs, the lead of Entrepreneurial learning at the school.
“I think that if a kindergarten child can look around and ask ‘what can I improve,’ whether in their own social life or their community as a school, if we are teaching that (to the young) there are great things to come.”