My first year I sobbed. Over time, we as educators have gotten better at mental health awareness and putting in place some of the things that some of our kiddos do not have. Not everyone is lucky enough to have two parents that work.
Kinza | Farm to School
Kinza works as a second grade teacher at Lowell Elementary. 92% of students at Lowell are on the free and reduced lunch program and Lowell is at the top of the disadvantaged list in Missoula. This year, Lowell had 23 homeless students in attendance. Kinza, from the beginning of Garden City Harvest’s Farm to School work, has taken on our newest projects with enthusiasm. She was instrumental in building and utilizing the school garden, and one of the first to incorporate Farmer in the Classroom.
My first year [at Lowell], I sobbed. It was different than what I had experienced in the classroom prior. It also made me vastly aware of the diversity in this town and it's quite easy to not realize what a struggle it is for some. We have an awesome staff and a great principal and things have evolved – the garden being one of them – that have made it a sweet little community.
[Farm to School director, Jason, and I] love working with the kids, share that vision of how important it is to get the kids out, eating what we’re growing – we kind of have that comradery of – "we’re in it together."
[When I take a class to the garden] we read and write, and we sit, do show and tell, and sometimes we just have our snack out there. The kids like being outside. They like exploring, they like that they get to eat stuff, they feel empowered. I give them a level of trust with tools. They count and bag things and then we get to sell at our farm stand. There's this kind of discovery.
I think it's pretty powerful for kids to know what it looks like to harvest, and see the whole process—that you can eat this thing. They use lots of different skills: problem solving, collaboration, math and fine motor. Farmer Amy comes in and makes squash pancakes and the kids are over the moon.
I have definitely had kids—and mostly it's, if I was going to generalize, the ones that do come in with trauma or a dysfunctional family—to have found that garden space to be kind of the healing piece of what gardening can be. You know they're not verbalizing: "this makes me feel so good and safe and calm", but you can see it in them. There are so many expectations in a classroom—you've got to sit and you’ve got to be quiet in the hallway. In the garden you can relax a little bit—you still have expectations but you can relax them. Just a space for kids to be quiet.
I've definitely had I can think of two boys who have had issues with family. Time out there is different for them – impactful. There's so much stress in these families: there’s not enough money for everybody, there's not enough jobs for everybody, and these little people are just like those sponges that are in that equation.
I love my time in the garden because I am outside in the sunshine, and I'm with these guys, and I'm like "this is my job—I love this!" We are discovering things together. That's why I'm a teacher.