Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A Very Green Thumb

If you're at Arlington Hills on a Wednesday afternoon, you'll probably run into Courtney Kocher, our Summer Garden Teacher. Courtney has been a part of the Arlington Hills since May; teaching English lessons that are focused on gardening, as well as planning out and leading the learners in weekly garden tasks to keep the four school community gardens growing and thriving. Courtney recently responded to some questions that we had for her about her experiences.

What drew you to the garden teacher position in the first place?
This position is the perfect combination of two things I love: Working with ELL students and the great outdoors. I had been looking for ways to get more involved in the urban gardening movement within the Twin Cities and I had also spent the last year and half volunteering with various ELL programs. When I saw the opening, I was instantly excited about the possibility of being a part of the Arlington Hills MLC community.

How have you enjoyed your experience working with the gardens so far this summer?
Wednesday might just be my favorite day of my week. Each Wednesday I come to work outside with the students and I always leave with my spirits lifted and feeling energized for the rest of my day. While I serve as a "teacher" to the students by sharing my experience gardening in the U.S., all of the students are also "teachers" to me. I learn about edible weeds that most people in the U.S. would toss away and I learn about countries far away from my own. As we all work together in the garden, I especially enjoy checking in with the students individually to practice English and also to learn a little more about them.

What is some of the work that you've done with the learners?
We've planted a wide variety of vegetables, flowers, and herbs, including lettuce, mustard greens, arugula, cilantro, basil, beans, peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, and sunflowers. Each week we tend the garden by weeding, watering, and harvesting what is ready. We always start our time with a short lesson in the classroom, then we move out to the garden where the students can put their new vocabulary to use in a hands-on way.

What are some of the challenges that you've faced so far?
Communication! But that can only be expected when working with an ELL group and it is actually part of the fun -- figuring out new ways to communicate, to share, and to connect with one another across cultural and lingual barriers, which are not so great as they may initially seem. Some of the most special moments come when we are having conversations that begin with some communication difficulties, but end with these "ah-ha" moments of comprehension and often laughter. We learn that people who have grown up so far from one another are not so different after all, and we have shared human experiences that all of us can relate to at some level.