|Russ and students examining leaves|
The Outdoor Learning Center at North Shore Elementary School continues thanks to the many individuals that support this project. The South Haven Garden Club gave us a grant this fall to purchase seven very nice binoculars for our birding expeditions. Russ Schipper has continued to support this project by being our resident expert in all things birds and nature (my students are looking forward to the Backyard Bird Count (through Cornell University) with Russ this February). His wife, Ilse continues to be our monarch butterfly expert and donator of milkweed for our new butterfly garden. I am most grateful for this ongoing support. I can't imagine my life as an educator without the amazing people who support this outdoor learning adventure.
Although many individuals have supported this project over the years (too many to mention here although if you read through the many previous entries it is a long list of generous folks) I have yet to get the full support of South Haven Public Schools. This may seem odd, because the one group that you would think would be most supportive of this project (if only because they are most directly benefiting), South Haven Public Schools, has not donated or helped in any way (besides giving the initial school board okay several years ago). In fact, the head of maintenance has reminded me several times (usually while I'm out working in the gardens on my own time) how it takes more time to mow around the four trees that we planted (a generous donation from Ann Frost) than if there were no trees. He has also implied on numerous occasions how the project will simply become another mess that he will eventually have to clean up. And, while under his instruction the garden crew mulches the trees around the school, they leave those donated trees for me to mulch. Thankfully, the city donates mulch to me every year and I faithfully mulch the raised beds and the trees. Our new butterfly garden (an Eagle Scout Project) was strategically placed in an unmowed field, which is now not only being mowed around, but the border to the garden is sprayed with Round-Up! I've suggested that they stop mowing the field and to please stop spraying poisons (think of the time and money they could save). I was told that I should put signs out in the garden (preferable in Spanish) that say not to spray. Apparently, the message to not mulch specific trees can be relayed, but to not mow or spray poisons around a Certified Monarch Waystation, is too difficult an instruction for the garden crew to understand. I know this lack of support is not about time or energy, it's about power and making sure that I realize this project is not important. I understand their perspective, but I completely disagree and I will continue with or without this support. It is worth my time because I know it is a gift to the students in my class. I know that it benefits their education. Thankfully, there are many others outside of the school that agree with me and have faithfully and generously supported me.
Several years ago, I was telling my mom my frustrations regarding the lack of school support for this project. I told her that I felt like I didn't belong; like I had been working on this project for years and I seemed to be the only one at school that seemed at all interested in it. Although I've shared teaching ideas and encouraged other teachers, even they seem to have no time for it. My mom smiled and said, "They need you and you are exactly where you belong. If they had a strong outdoor learning program, they wouldn't need you. You are doing something that you know is good for students and without you, it wouldn't be there. Don't stop because of lack of support from others. Keep doing this for your students and for you."
My mom died a few weeks ago, but I can still hear her voice and I'm trying to find her strength. She was a powerhouse. She was famous for standing up for people on the margins in this life and she did so fiercely. I know that there were many times her own feelings were hurt, but what made her special was that she stood up for what she believed even when she felt personally insulted. Even when she felt alone, she found her voice and she stood up. She knew what it was like to be less than popular, but she also knew that being popular was not as important as taking care of her students, or the mentally ill, or the homeless or whatever marginally group needed her help. And she made a difference in this life for many, many people.
Yesterday, I was going through my emails deleting the hundreds of pieces of junk mail that come my way. As I was getting to about the end of the summer (I was very behind in my emails) I came across an email that wasn't junk, but that I had failed to read. It was from a former student. At the beginning of the year, I had received a generous gift as a "Favorite Teacher Award" from Meijer (our local supermarket). I had no idea how I had gotten it, but I received a huge donation of arts supplies and a gift certificate to spend on my classroom. I felt unusually lucky that somehow someone must have randomly put my name in a box and I actually won (I am famous for never winning anything). At any rate, I found this old email and the mystery was solved. It was from a student who wrote, "I don't know if you remember me . . . I am in 7th grade now and you are still my favorite teacher and still I love butterflies and still I learn all I can about them. I nominated you for favorite teacher award and they actually picked us for winning . . I just wanted to say thank you for making learning fun and being a nice teacher, and I'm sad you are not my teacher because all the other ones are not like you. . . I got my school supplies paid for me and all I had to do was talk about how nice you were. . . " I immediately responded to him (very late) and thanked him for his kind words. And of course I remembered him! This kind student reminded me why I continue to do what I do. . . And my students continue to teach me each and every day about what is really important in this life and what really matters.