Would you open the door for someone with a broken leg and crutches? Would you help a student struggling with anxiety get the help and support to keep pursuing their education? Are physical disabilities more important and worthy of assistance than mental obstacles? At Wilson River School, students who are at-risk of dropping out, or who have attendance issues struggle with heightened anxiety from larger class sizes, bullying, family problems, language barriers or isolation. They also need an inclusive outdoor space. In Wilson River’s Garden of Delights, students are investing effort and using their voice in its development. This therapeutic environment rewards their sweat equity with growth from the seeds they planted and watered.
After ten years of teaching language arts, I am appealing to our neighbors and local community-as caring human beings capable of helping students by being an ‘extra set of eyes.’ Can you help us find ‘Miss Rhode Island,’ our red hen; the one with the red band around her leg? She is an integral part of the new Wilson Garden program. She is the friendliest of the five chickens who are monitored and fed by a student. Now she is gone after a second break-in to our garden. Some students miss her while others see her “friendliness” as a nuisance to the garden beds.
More disturbing is the sense of invasion we feel from having someone trespass in the school garden in the middle of making it ready for our upcoming curriculum. Six weks before school ended, students worked on creating the garden for a Literacy and Planting event with Preschoolers; a field exchange with Portland State University student mentors and Wilson students; a story exchange with English Language Development students from Tillamook High School; and as an events space for a Wilson River graduation ceremony. We would rather concern ourselves with growing and extending the garden in support of lifelong learning than with security cameras and punitive measures.
Students have demonstrated interest in having a garden theme that spans across content areas like science, math, social studies, home economics, culinary, camping skills and language arts. It will be an integral part of project based learning that allows students to dig deeper and to grow, despite the weeds of their life’s circumstances. Did you know that bilingual students are strengthening their conversational English speaking skills and teaching us Spanish as we work in the garden? We are bridging differences as we grow our garden and becoming more familiar through our lived experiences.
Did you know garden students are volunteering their time over their summer vacation and not getting high school credit nor money for their work? Did you know they now have a passionate and knowledgeable Garden teacher, Kaitlyn working alongside them? “We are trying to grow a garden that is inviting to all and allow our students to invite others in creating a better community. Our chickens allow our kids to learn about animal care and get a small insight into farm life. They care for the chickens, collect their eggs, and bond with the animals. Having some of our ‘girls’ stolen is very upsetting and having our garden broken into is unnerving. We are worried about all the work we have put into it, being destroyed,” says Kaitlyn.
“I like the chickens because they keep us company and get us more familiar with livestock animals. I find it disrespectful that someone thinks it’s okay to come distress or birds and school property. I hope that all the birds return safely and are left alone by walking strangers,” Torrance Heffernan, a sophomore student remarked.
Angelica Ortiz, a Tillamook Bay Community College partner is also bonding with our students through math tutoring and working in the garden. She says, “A group of students have been working very hard to make the garden beautiful, but unfortunately, someone has come to vandalize the garden and steal some chickens from the coop. We are very sad this is happening in our community, and, above all, we are very concerned for the safety of Wilson students.”
The next time you see strangers walking on the Wilson River School campus, or in the Garden of Delights, can you partner with us in our quest for a growth mindset? Can you watch out and give us a helping set of eyes? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
-Debra Tavares, 9-12 English Language Arts, Tillamook