According to Holly Hayes, the clerk and treasurer of South Algonquin Township, there has been a great initiative going on with the township’s elementary school students. Students at Whitney Public School and at St. Martin of Tours Catholic School have been going out, designing and putting together harvest flower gardens at Galeairy Lake Memorial Park to beautify the town and to learn about the natural world around them.
At least as far back as the 2016 South Algonquin Community-Based Strategic Plan, students in that township recognized that environmental sustainability and township beautification were initiatives that would benefit them.
This realization made the students jump at the chance to participate in the harvest garden flower box revitalization proposed by Hayes when their teachers made them aware of it. Hayes had noticed that the boxes could use a fall update, and spoke to some teachers who were wanting to get their students outside more this fall, and to a parent who had too many gourds in her garden and was looking to give them away.
“I put that all together and proposed it as an art project, and we gave them a very small budget. I put a few photos of the plants sitting beside the box on social media last week, to let people know what was going on and there were a lot of great comments, likes and shares. I’ve also talked to a few people who thought it was a good idea,” she says.
Hayes says that anytime they can encourage youth to be involved, it helps them feel connected to the community and develop a sense of community pride. She says that the park has hundreds of visitors on the weekends and she hopes that the kids will feel accomplished that they created such a beautiful display for those visitors to enjoy.
“Of course, a huge thanks to all the teachers and support staff who did the most work on this project. We are so incredibly fortunate to have such a dedicated group from two school boards working together everyday to ensure that our students have every opportunity possible,” she says.
Hayes also makes a point of also congratulating school staff in South Algonquin who have worked hard to help students through the difficult transition that the pandemic has presented.
“They are working hard to develop creative learning opportunities within the constant flux of the COVID-19 safety requirements,” she says.
Cynthia Wolfgram is a teacher at Whitney Public School, whose kindergarten to Grade 3 class has been taking part in this project.
“The township reached out to us and the kids decided to do it. The kids brought everything from home. We went for a walk and collected sticks and branches and the kids came in with bags of pumpkins, gourds and everything the families are contributing,” she says.
Wolfgram says that everything they are using to decorate this harvest garden is from nature, with the exception of a few pots of mums, but she says the pots can be reused.
“Everything else will go back into nature through composting or reuse,” she says. “So we are talking about harvest and how we’re kind of going back to nature, celebrating the vegetables and pumpkins and hay that we’re currently harvesting.”
While her class goes for walks at least once a week down to the river, Wolfgram says that this is the first time they have done something like this for the community.
“We haven’t heard anything yet from the community, but the garden is gorgeous. I almost wanted to cry when I saw it. The kids did it all. They put everything where it is. It was pretty cool,” she says. “The kids built it, they set everything up and they learned about giving back to Mother Nature and making things beautiful. It’s nice for humans to do that and it shows that we care. So that was a learning experience for them, so that was nice.”
Along with Whitney Public School, another school that shares the same building, St. Martin of Tours Catholic School, also took part in the garden beautification project.
Tara McEnery is the vice principal at St. Martin of Tours and also teaches the Kindergarten to Grade 4 class. She reiterates that a call from Hayes got the ball rolling with her students helping with the garden.
She says they were all happy to do it, and that the township provided them funding to acquire the necessary materials.
“We took the classes down and we started decorating it yesterday, with hay bales and some mums and some pumpkins and gourds and things. We should be done by later today or early on tomorrow,” she says.
McEnery says that her whole school is participating, as it is a small school of about 14 students. She says that all the kids really enjoyed it.
“There were some people in the parking lot there when we were decorating it and they were asking us about it. They were very impressed. It looked like they’d pulled over to eat their lunch. They thought it was pretty neat,” she says.
The school secretary is making up signs to put at the garden, and is being helped by some of the younger students, according to McEnery. She says that they tried to get out on Oct. 7 but the rain kept interfering with those plans.
“We’ll add the signs when the paint is dry and we have some branches and things we’re going to add to it before we call it done. It’s a nice idea,” she says. “It’s a great way for the kids to get involved in the community.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times