Breaking the news about GMO to a group of JR Highers is heavy. They look at you with a weird stare and listen quietly. They remember technical words like genes and virus. They sit still.
Today we talked GMO. I taught this subject several times now, to different 7/8 graders. All reacted the same; almost like they'd been waiting for the information.
I tell them straight that Genetically Modified Organisms break my heart. I get choked up at the thought of GMO's wild in their world, left for them to deal with someday. I don't want to be the one to burst the bubble, but then, I do want to make sure all middle schoolers are introduced to the concept of gene modification before they vanish to high school.
Youth are waiting for the information. They don't get down about the psyco-knarly potential of GMO like I do; they are still kids. But I see their brains working, and every student takes the time to take the information in.
My co-worker Ms. Jenny told me today that she agrees with a youtube video she saw that says universal forces are working together with us Earthlings, to help and guide humanity in the right direction. I agree with them both. GMO-attentive middle schoolers are key to positive cultural evolution.
A third grade boy with big brown eyes and freckles raised his hand in reflection circle to share an observation from the day's work. We had spent the class moving rocks and clipping back invasive grass. In the process, we uncovered plenty worms; worms half the length of a spaghetti noodle and the circumference of an electric wire flopping around in their always fascinating Exposed Dance.
He said, "I noticed lots of FBI (Fungus, Bacteria, Invertibrates). And I noticed that worms help us dig. I was finding worm tunnels to get my hand in and help get out the rocks."
"What effect do you think worm holes have on the roots of plants?" I asked?
His eye brows shot up and he said, "I know! The roots can use the holes to grow!"
And poof, just like that these brilliant young gardeners put together something I had to study to know. I read that worms help aerate the soil and provide paths for stretching roots in a book somewhere when I was learning about worms so I could teach about them in garden class just seven years ago. And this boy just taught himself, from his own hands in the soil, at nine.
School is back in session! The garden is alive with children once again. The garden grew into a bean jungle over the summer months. Ms. Melissa and I tried extra super hard to keep from fighting back the aggressive vine so children could enjoy the remarkable growth.
Student gardeners were absolutely delighted to re-discover their garden. Our bean tunnel grew into a bean cave! Some students discovered a palm-sized garden spider cocooning up a three-inch centipede for lunch. It was like orca vs. great white shark in our garden. Who would have known the spider would win? We watched a gecko snatch a different spider, and then spit it out. The gecko crawled away with the bug the spider had been wrapping up. The spider was left with its' barren web and no lunch. We saw butterflies mating and found a few praying mantis'. Grasshoppers the color of limes were bombing the entire garden - fluttering around disturbed for the first time in months.
I was excited to watch children running for their favorite herb snacks - mint and licorice fennel among their favorites. We dined on juicy starfruit, guava, and bananas. "A monkey was here!" exclaimed a new first grader who discovered empty yellow banana peals on the ground. He looked up and found the rest of the thriry-pound banana pod still on the tree. "Can we eat some too?" he inquired.
The first class I took into the garden found a huge stinging nettle munching some spinach. We were reminded of the bummer and extreme shame that these invasive species bring to our perfect Island habitat. I was thankful that the student was not stung and I got a specimen to show the rest of the garden students. I was reminded that telling the children the truth about the hazards we import into our Island in the name of ornamental palms is the only way to keep them safe; both so our littlest explorers of the wild don't get hurt and so they can make change someday.
I told every class that they are the hope for the future. There was a day in Hawaii where every person was a gardener who knew how to grow the food needed to fill their own bellies and that of their family's. Now, 1-2% of our population are farmers (that statistic is reflected nationally and locally) and the average age of those farmers is 65 years and older.
I hope the satisfaction our students receive from growing their own food while they are in elementary school will produce the radical change we need for a healthy future. Wonder Garden students are planting the seeds for a healthy future and they know it!!
With 10 hours before the assembly to spare, I finally totaled our school's data from these many months of recording greywater and paper recycling numbers. Students sat still and quiet as I (with the help of my handsome son assistanting) reviewed total pounds of paper we recycled, how many pencils Mr. G. and I picked up in nooks and crannies all over our campus, and how many gallons of water our garden class' greywater system supplied to thirsty plants.
Students cheered with bold volume as I told them that our school had recycled 1977 pounds of paper. Ocean helped me unfold a perfectly-fine, thrown-away segment of that brown paper that comes on big rolls that I had stowed away for reuse months earlier. With ink just barely dried, the reused paper unfolded at least 6 ft long.
It depicted the mathmatical wizardry of data. With every one of those 1997 pounds accounting for 16 onces, 16 X 1977 is 31,632 ounces. If one piece of paper equals .12 onces, dividing 31632 by .12 equals 263,600 pieces of paper recycled by our school. With our school population totaling 185, dividing 263,600 by 185 is 1425; the number of pieces of paper each student used at our school and recycled last school year. With the words barely out my mouth, I heard two kids in front whisper to each other, "No way, I didn't do that. Nuhuah." I said, "Hey guys and gals, remember when you point blame at other people, you have three fingers pointing back at you." Of course, they all pointed at each other to see if three fingers really do point back. They do.
Wow said the kids. I pulled out three reams of copy paper, 500 each times three, equaling just under the number of papers used by our students. 1425 - the amount of sheets of paper used by each student in 2010/11. Paper makes up the most matter in our landfills, said the graph I showed from a "Begining Reader" pamphlet I picked out of our recycling as I was shleping it around one day. Americans discard over 80 million pounds last year alone. Paper is a biodegradable and recyclable substance that can't biodegrade when it ends up in oxygen-free, toxic as all get out, landfills. We kept 1977 pounds out of our beloved Waikoloa landfill; a sludge basin just a quarter mile mountain of the sea.
Take the math a step further. If one paper-producing pine tree is 850 pounds, our efforts saved two and a quarter trees; a fact I also drew on the unfolded paper.
I asked 7/8 grade students the same question a month earlier when they were pre-fiddling with the data. When I asked them if it was worth it, to haul around all this rubbish (because these kids are the students doing the data recording), they enlightened me with responses. One eighth grade boy I surf with regularly said, "How do you measure microorganisms?" Another seventh grade girl said, "Ms. Krista, you told us that these paper mills are next to rivers so they can put thier pollution there. How do you put a dollar sign on keeping pollution out of a river?"
I didn't stop the assembly to ask how the elementary students felt about saving two trees. When my son and I had been discussing the findings earlier he said, "If we keep that up, we'll save a whole forest."
I went on to talk about our greywater findings. Our garden sink is a shanty-town sink put together out of an old pallet and a dicarded double-bowled stainless steel sink. The drains empty into two five-gallon buckets. We keep track of how many times Ms. Melissa and I dump the filled buckets over thirsty plants through-out the school year. I showed our non-fancy data sheets to the students and unfolded the big sheet that showed our total; 870 gallons of water fed to plants instead of drained down the sewer. The other posters I pulled out showed that 870 gallons equals two hot tubs worth of water and 58 showers (two months worth!). Kids were wowed.
Last item; pencils. We calculated that Mr. G picked up an additional 223 pencils since March, when he had picked up 233 since Sept. Between August and Sept, he had picked up 438 pencils! In all, Mr. G picked up 839 pencils this year!! We love you Mr. G!
Like I told the kids, I feel inspired by this data. It shows that IPCS students are doing some important work, putting rubbish in its new place - the recycler or the compost - more than ever before. No other public schools are doing IPCS style recyling on our Island! Our students are the change we need for a healthy future. I got all choked up and maybe even some of them did too.
My collegue told me she overheard some kids after the assembly, walking to class, saying, "I guess adults do math too." Who knew that math wizardry would be so powerful? That kids can learn recycling and the awesomeness that math can be all in one assembly? That ten-year-olds can save two trees and see the forest? I am still glowing...
What better way to study inventions but to design them yourself? What better way to learn how easy it is to recycle water than to design a drainage system that enables every student to water plants when they wash their hands?
I am bursting with hope for the future to announce that our third and forth grade gardeners have sucessfully designed and implemented a beautiful and functional greywater system off the wasted art room sink water. Where once a drain poured perfectly useful dirty water into the gravel now lies a bamboo french drain irrigating 10 feet of space.
The greywater system is a school-wide effort. Seventh and eighth grade gardeners harvested and hauled old-growth bamboo from a friend's coffee farm. Third and fourth graders worked with IPCS Fascilities Specialist Alex Garcia using a simple wedge to split in half longways yellow-with-green-stripes bamboo the circumference of my thigh and approx 8 feet long. Students loved seeing the power of the humble wedge at work. Mr. G brought the ever-popular power drill so students could take turns drilling drain holes the legnth of the bamboo. And students lined up patiently for their turn with the awesome power sander for the smooth finishing touch.
Another class of third and fourth grades carried the bamboo to the greywater site. They hacked out spider lilies taller than they are with the efficency of a herd of beavers. Students dug a trough to lay the system's pipe, connected the bamboo to the sink drain pipe, and turned on the facet for a test run.
But alas, like any new invention, it did not work right at first. Too wide were the holes, too tall were the segment separaters in the bamboo, and not enough slope prevented water from trickling more than five inches.
I was amazed that within a few powerful seconds of thought, more than one inventor noted that added height would work with gravity to push more water down the bamboo and rocks could easily help plug the holes. We rigged up a support system for the drain connector and dug a trough to help stabalize the bamboo pipe.
Our whole ohana can see now how simple ingenuity can help recycle water. Using greywater efficiently will be a huge resource in upcoming decades. With these inventors at the helm of our country, we should be able to incorporate greywater systems into the everyday fiber of our existance.
The Big Island is blessed by the Soil Whisperer. Gene has dedicated his life to studying soil and sharing the information he has discovered. Yesturday, garden students were lucky enough to hear Gene's knowledge and share in his enthusiastic, hopeful vibe. Gene's message is that soil health = plant health = human health. When he talks soil health, he means literally examining the mineral and vitamin content of soil, discovering that added vitamins and minerals in depleted soil means added vitamins and minerals in human bellies. After decades of agricultural poison, synthetic fertilizers, deforestation, and other means of abuse, the earth's soil has become depleted of the vital nutrients that feed the microorganisms and macroorganisms in soil. These important soil organisms ingest nutrients, breaking vitamins and minerals down into forms usable by plant roots. Plants internalize these nutrients, maximizing the plant's health and making them available for human consumption. Without added nutrients in our soil, plants need more water, are ruthlessly attacked by insects that know where to get an easy meal, and humans are eating food empty of the vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health. In Hawaii, we import 90% of our food; food that is depleted of nutrients, transported by boat across the Pacific, and then fumigated to kill bugs. Gene came yesturday to begin the process of amending our school's garden soil so the fruits and veggies we grow are full of the vitamins and minerals children need for healthy growth.
Garden students were happy to learn from the Soil Whisperer. They were shocked to hear that these basic connections between soil health and human health are actually radical scientific thought. Mainstream science does not embrace Gene's methods of improving soil health, instead siding with the use of more chemicals and more water to make up for any soil shortcomings.
Gene the Soil Whisperer is a modern day Rachel Carson, and our school, our Island, are blessed to have him.
Twenty one kids went home from the last day before Christmas Break with edible potted plants bedazzled in beach glass soil toppings and glitter dusted plant lables. Kids were intent on making charming "gifts that keep giving." Wide eyed first graders and confident sixth graders and all grades inbetween met at the lunch area; grouped together by crafts where students get to choose two out of about ten holiday merriments. It's pretty significant that edible plants - chives, amaranth, spinach, or pineapple mint - are choosen concidering their competition - candy filled santa jars and sock-stuffed snowdolls. All chose to make the plants as gifts for others. Parent Rick Taylor arrived just in time with much welcomed expertise and a helping hand. Miss Sheyna even stopped by and made some potted gems for her mom. Children had a great time and the potted plants were beautiful.
Ua mau ke ea o ka 'aina i ka pono
Even in the garden, the combination of sparkles and sticky stuff got real messy. A few girls ended up with glitter hair and a couple of the boys were still pealing globules of grass, glue, and glitter off their elbows and forearms after school. Despite the awkwardness of adheasing glitter sitting on lau hala mats with birds and insect distractions every few seconds, all was merry and bright in our garden winter wonderland. Students spent class making garden-inspired ornaments and eating. Kids were devouring lemon slices with a dribble of honey. Definitely got their dose of Vit C. Other students ate IPCS-grown beans scooped with chips. Beans are one of the most popular dishes. There are only about three kids in the whole school who still doubt the beans..
Ms Krista says:
Everyday encounters with real garden sprites; tortuous panorama of the surf; old-growth collards; machete lessons; mantis rehab; pesto pasta. Days as a public school garden teacher on the Big Island are filled with unexpected gems of wisdom and infinite inspirations. Introducing my life as a school garden teacher...