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Pollinator Project and Kitchen Classroom

Hello! My name is Elizabeth Heck, and being an Americorp Vista Volunteer, I have had the wonderful privilege of participating in and coordinating an assortment of projects that heavily rely on the help of dedicated and caring volunteers.

One of those projects is the Native Pollinator Art & Education Project that took place the week of February 6th through 9th. It was early Monday morning, the week of the Native Pollinator Art & Education Project, when the SVS crew, local volunteers, and a team of educators from the O’Hara Commons & Sustainability Center in Hamilton, Montana met together, steaming cups of coffee in hand, to prepare for the first class of the day. With the Trailblazer loaded with art supplies and pollinator education materials, the team was off to Pioneer Elementary School!

The first group of students to participate consisted of 5th graders. They rotated between education stations that exhibited colorful, vivacious posters, and painting the wooden cut-outs of pollinators. Each grade was allocated a particular pollinator cut-out ranging from: butterflies, bees, moths, beetles, hummingbirds, Sphinx moths, and wasps. Each group of students were also thoughtfully assigned a specific color palette of paints to ensure the best color combinations. As the fifth graders entered the room, they were individually tarped with T-shirts by the crew in lieu of smocks. The table was set with butterfly cut-outs, vivid paints, and paint brushes.

The students showed no hesitation, grabbed their paint brushes, and delicately dipped them in the assortment of fresh paint. The imagination of these students was incredible! With every purposeful stroke of the brush, the bare butterflies developed into colorful masterpieces ranging from the designs of the American flag to the sun setting over green, rolling hills. As additional groups rotated to the art station, the volunteer crew replenished the paint supply with new color palettes from squeeze bottles filled with paint. With the limited amount of time that students had to decorate the butterflies, every single wooden cut-out demonstrated the precision of a thoughtful artist.

After students put the finishing touches of paint on their pollinator cut-out, the crew delicately packed them up in pizza boxes so that they could be easily transferred without disturbing the drying paint. The crew then hastily packed up the art supplies and plastic tarps in tubs, and loaded them in the Trailblazer to prepare for the next group of students. Each class was not only intrigued by the art, but also the pollinator education that was tailored to their grade level. The Kindergartners were especially attentive to the educators from the O’Hara Commons, contributing their own personal encounters with pollinators. One student conveyed his pain and anguish of being stung by a bee. After learning that moths are important pollinators, another student admitted that his grandma is known as the “moth killer”; he then reassured the class that he abstains from killing the moths.

Every class from kindergarten to 8th grade produced uniquely, beautiful artwork that was gazed upon with awe and admiration by the crew. The installation of the pollinator cut-outs on the elementary fence in May will ensure that both the entire community of Salmon and people just passing through will get to observe and marvel at the picturesque mural of our important, native pollinators.

It was an honor to be a part of this exhilarating project. I want to genuinely thank every volunteer who contributed their valuable time and effort out of their busy day to assist with this project. We could not have successfully accomplished this without them! I look forward to the installation of these beautiful pollinators in May, and hope to see these supportive volunteers again, along with new faces who are also charmed by this exceptional endeavor.

I am currently launching a kitchen classroom pilot project at Pioneer Elementary with participating 3rd and 5th graders. The purpose of this venture is to introduce basic kitchen skills to young students. This program will help students develop the essential aptitude of preparing food and becoming familiar with tools in the kitchen. Exposing young ones to recipes which incorporate fresh food that can be grown in a garden at home not only provide them with life skills, but connects hands-on learning with academic standards in a fun, exciting approach.

The recipes for this five week project include: Veggie Rounds & Hummus, Mixed Greens Salad & Vinaigrette, Popcorn, Three Sisters Soup (squash, corn, and beans), and Quinoa Taco Lettuce Wraps. Students learn how to read and follow these simple recipes right inside their classroom with the help of portable kitchen stations. These kitchen stations consist of three, large plastic tubs that have an array of kitchen tools and supplies in them. It is sincerely a joy to observe the participation of these students. Watching them measure spices with a teaspoon and reaming a lemon awards me with a personal satisfaction that can be instilled only by aspiring and curious young minds.

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