Garden Educators Shaping Our Youth

Throughout the month of November, we will be showing gratitude to people in our community whose work has what we like to call the "Pollinator Effect". Just like pollinators are a small but mighty part of the life cycle and keep things growing, these people are part of a cycle that’s much bigger than themselves. Their impact grows exponentially as it influences friends and family, shapes the minds of youth, creates resiliency and much more.

This week, meet Peggy Backup.

After five years serving as the Garden Specialist at both Nokomis and Grace Hudson elementary schools, Peggy recognizes the quiet transformative power of something as delicate as a lacewing.

“It’s very elegant,” says Peggy. “I’ve had students with pretty severe behavioral problems that have had an encounter with an insect, where either the insect came onto their hand or they saw the insect and were able to gently pick it up, and then the rest of the time in the class, their behavior was transformed. And they were just really respectful.”

Peggy is one of the many leaders in our community who use gardens as a catalyst for change and understanding. By teaching elementary school students what it means to gently interact with nature in the garden, she is also teaching them how to interact with their world.

“It’s really an honor for the insect to be comfortable on you, and your job is to take care of the insect and make sure it’s not hurt, and then at the end of class if it’s still there you can put it back in a place where you found it or where it would be happy.”

Peggy recalls a student who was unable to follow directions and continually caused problems in the classroom, until he encountered an insect in the garden. "He was just so kind and gentle to this praying mantis. He did such a fabulous job. I was able to praise him and make sure that his classroom teacher and others knew that his behavior was way above average. It made me feel good to be able to give him praise because I don’t think he gets it very frequently.”

The garden teaches many lessons. “It can be used as a science laboratory for doing experiments, or math, or art, or journaling,” says Peggy, “a place to learn how to taste all sorts of food that they might not otherwise have had good access to… we also learn about the seasons here. We learn about the birds and the trees and the soil and what’s growing in the soil.” A garden teaches all these things and more, but perhaps most importantly, it is “a place to learn how to cooperate with each other and be respectful of nature as well as each other.”

Just like a single insect can pollinate hundreds of flowers a day, Peggy touches the lives of hundreds of students through garden learning. Peggy's impact on her students will continue to grow as they go on to interact kindly with others, make sustainable choices, and seek to learn more about their world. At the Garden’s Project, that’s what we call the Pollinator Effect.

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