HAMLET — Under gray clouds and in a cold rain, the Bowtie for Boys club at Fairview Heights Elementary crowded under umbrellas Wednesday to watch high school agriculture teacher Joy Kennedy plant a crape myrtle beside their school.
As it grows, the tree will provide both a metaphor and a life lesson for the boys, who are learning how to grow in responsibility, how to communicate and compromise, and how to gain self-confidence and leadership qualities.
“I hope the boys remember planting the tree and will … try something like that on their own,” Kennedy said after the event. “I hope they remember growing something takes care, patience and hard work, and (that) they apply that to other areas of their life as well — especially their education.”
That’s just the kind of message school social worker Evonne Moore had in mind last year, when she asked teachers to submit the names of students in their classes who might face challenges but still demonstrated promise.
“We inducted the first 13 boys, and we gave them letters that they could include in their portfolios,” Moore said.
This year, Moore invited Kennedy and a handful of high school students to plant a tree with the club as a life-skills project.
Out in the rain, Kennedy started off by shoveling mulch out of the way and piercing the plastic under the mulch to get to the dirt.
Kennedy passed the shovel to Richmond Senior High School junior Jaheim Covington while she explained to students what he was doing while he dug a hole.
“It was a joy watching the boys’ faces when Jaheim was digging the hole for the tree because I thought they were thinking, ‘One day I could do that,’” Kennedy said. “It was also fun teaching them how to use rainwater as a resource.”
The rain was more of an advantage than a hindrance for Kennedy. Since no direct water source was close to the tree, she improvised.
“Sometimes you gotta work in the rain,” Kennedy told the students as she gathered water from a drain. “You gotta work with what you got.”
She showed them how full the bucket got after a short time under the drain, for which she received some “oohs” and “ahhs.”
“I enjoyed putting the tree in the ground,” fourth-grader Andy Bowman said. “I’m excited to see it grow.”
Third-grader Rhyls Stewart said he had planted vegetables, so he knew a little about how to take care of plants.
“We’re planting tomatoes and bell peppers, but they’ve haven’t grown yet,” he said while lifting his hand inches off the table to demonstrate how tall they have grown. “They’re growing in mason jars with rocks at the bottom.”
And fifth-grader Seneca Thomas volunteered that he and his grandma were growing sunflowers from seeds, in addition to other plants and vegetables such as okra and cabbage.
“My grandma plants a lot of flowers,” he said. “She loves them.”
To reflect on what the children gathered from watching Kennedy and her students plant the tree, Moore asked the boys to apply what they had seen and connect it back to nature.
“It gives us more air to breathe,” responded Seneca. “It will also give animals a place to live, like the birds and the squirrels.”
Moore also touched on critical-thinking skills, asking students to explain what were they thinking as the tree was being planted.
“How will we water it if it’s not raining?” asked one student.
“How will we keep it healthy?” asked another.
“We could throw banana peels to give it nutrients,” suggested one.
All in all, Moore told her boys that their project was not just about planting a tree. It was about connecting the event to their classes and relating it to the environment.
“What you plant now and how you take care of it will determine your what?” Moore asked.
“Harvest!” they all shouted.
Reach Jasmine Hager at 910-817-2675 or [email protected]