A project at an Abbotsford elementary school is pairing students with seniors through flowers, gardening and agriculture.
Planting Intergenerational Promises is a program in place with teacher Debbie Mar’s Grade 3 students at Upper Sumas Elementary in partnership with the B.C. Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation and Archway Community Services.
The 22 kids have been matched with seniors through Archway, with their first project well underway.
An in-person launch was not possible, due to the pandemic, so Mar said this required some improvisation.
Instead of the seniors and students planting flowers together, the kids were assigned to create watercolour paintings of their favourite blossom and explain why it is special to them.
The paintings were then delivered Oct. 1 by Josh Burton, supervisor of Senior Services at Archway, to the seniors, along with art supplies. The seniors have now been tasked with creating their own artwork, which, when done, will be delivered to their student matches.
Mar said the students were excited to participate, and she was impressed by the paintings they made.
“A lot were tulips, a lot were sunflowers, some were roses. One had wisteria, another had hyacinth … One little girl had said roses (were her favourite) because her grandma loved them and, when she died, her ashes were sprinkled under her roses,” she said.
Among the messages the kids wrote was one in relation to a sunflower: “Sunflowers remind me of planting with my mom. They grew very tall. We harvested the seeds so we can plant them next spring.”
Another, with a painting of African violets, said: “I love the colour of the blooms. The leaves are very fuzzy. We used to have (a) plant but it died. I still remember it.”
Burton said the seniors were thrilled to receive the paintings on Oct. 1 – National Seniors Day.
“When dropping off the packages, some recipients said they could not believe the paintings were from a local Grade 3 class. They were amazed at how colourful and vibrant the packages and paintings were,” he said.
“I could sense their excitement in being able to send their own artwork back to the students and return the same joy to their classroom.”
Mar said more projects are planned for the student-senior matches. The kids’ paintings are being turned into greeting cards, which they can then sell to their friends and family.
The funds raised will be used towards the project as it continues through the year.
For example, Mar said she hopes to turn the kids’ floral paintings into a 50-piece puzzle or an ornament that can be gifted to the seniors at Christmas.
The second project will involve the students planting daffodils and tulips that they receive from VanNoort Bulbs through Agriculture in the Classroom, and having those delivered to the seniors along with a poem or card.
Mar said another plan includes the students and seniors each creating an “imaginary garden” and sharing their stories back and forth.
Mar said another idea they are considering is doing a theatrical YouTube video.
The hope is that the entire project culminates at the end of the school year with the students delivering floral bouquets to their matches – in person, if possible.
Pat Tonn, executive director of BC Agriculture in the Classroom, said the organization is working with Mar to develop Planting Intergenerational Promises to share with 450 classrooms. Partners include VanNoort Bulbs, Service Canada, New Horizons for Senior Program, and the Dutch Liberation 2020 Canadian Society.
“The focus of the program is to engage students and seniors through planting and growing daffodil and tulip bulbs to extend agricultural learning and facilitate the exploration of intergenerational relationships; thus, deepening the connection between school and community,” Tonn said.
“The program is to promote mental well-being for self and others, and promoting a safe and caring environment, especially for seniors.”
Tonn said the resource for teachers will be released at the end of October or beginning of November.
Mar received the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching in October 2020 for her hands-on projects, which included one that started from a batch of tulip bulbs that were to be planted for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands in 2019.
Mar and her students spent weeks learning about the special relationship between Canada and the Netherlands, visited the graves of four soldiers at a local cemetery, produced a short documentary, participated in the school’s Remembrance Day ceremony and learned to sing in Dutch.
They also participated as guests of honour at a Veteran Affairs ceremony in Vancouver in March 2020.