Kalaheo Elementary 3rd-graders plant fruit trees around campus

KALAHEO — Caring, nurturing and responsibility.

That’s what third-graders in Ellen Wagner’s class at Kalaheo School are learning, thanks to a new initiative to get students working outside of the classroom, planting fruit trees around campus.

“We’ve planted all types of fruit trees,” said Eric Berkman, Kalaheo School principal. “Banana, orange, star fruit, breadfruit, all different kinds. The kids absolutely enjoy the digging, planting and getting the trees to grow.”

It truly is a hands-on activity for the kids, who have been working alongside Malama Kauai to make the activity possible.

“Malama Kauai reached out to us through our PCNC, Mahealani Contrades-Brun. She got us together with them and they offered to partner with the community and Merriman’s Kauai and they did a fundraiser one night, donating a portion of their proceeds of their meals,” Berkman said. “We raised enough to purchase the fruit trees, supplies, materials and soil that we needed.”

It’s a unique opportunity for these students, said Berkman, who feels this program isn’t just fun and educational, but also builds character.

“The reason why we did it was to give kids a chance to take care of some fruit trees and, over time, watch them grow and produce fruit,” Berkman said. “They got to care for them. Once the fruit trees get kind of mature, they’ll take care of themselves basically. There’s some kind of symbolism there. That’s what we try to do here at the school, prepare our kids for the future.”

Andrew Foy, campaign leader of the project from Malama Kauai, echoes Berkman’s sentiments, saying how important it is to provide students a new avenue of learning.

“The teachers and students really enjoyed that and the school was so receptive of having us there. It was a great place to work in,” Foy said. “But I can’t take all the credit. It was Mahealani’s idea to construct a produce stand with all the fruits from the fruit trees planted.”

Contrades-Brun has been a huge supporter of student development inside and outside of the classroom. This new project has brought both of those worlds together and she is thrilled to see students enjoying themselves while learning.

“Hands-on learning is always great. There’s only so much that a kid can do in the classroom,” Contrades-Brun said. “This is something for them to learn about sustainability, taking pride in growing things. To learn, to take care of something and nurture something, and also sharing with the school, I think is a great thing. Growing things to share with others, let alone just students or teachers and staff, is an amazing lesson for them as well.”

As a teacher, Wagner is encouraged to see her students take initiative at such a young age. After all, it’s not every day that a third-grader has complete autonomy over another living organism.

“I think when you do something with your hands, you remember it,” Wagner said. “Rather than giving them a sticker for doing a good job, they get the intrinsic reward of hard work. It’s a wonderful lesson for them. For them to do a project like this, is very much a life skill. Especially nurturing, which comes very natural to them. But you have to encourage it … children learn, we all learn, from experience. It’s our best learning tool. And they love it.”

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