Outside Educare in West DuPage, engraved at your feet, the entrance of the school reads:
“When You Change a Child’s Life, You Change an Entire Community. Together We Are Changing a Country.”
As you walk through their halls, the welcoming atmosphere at Educare envelopes you. The beautiful space is centered around the children’s health and happiness, but the true magic is the people and the roles designed to support the students, teachers and families. They make all the difference, and the effects clearly ripple out into the community.
I was lucky enough to speak with Mentor Teachers Isabella Sosa and Jen Prodoehl, who gave me insight on what Educare does to impact their community and where their relationship with GardenWorks fits in.
Fall of 2022 was their first year working with GardenWorks, and they recalled the day that the soil was delivered. The large trucks on school property were enough to excite any preschooler and the children’s interest grew as the season progressed. Each week, a classroom had responsibility for watering the garden bed and got to watch the seedlings sprout, with plenty of learning opportunities as they harvested, washed, and even made (and ate!) salads and kale chips.
The discovery of small cabbage moth caterpillars munching on the squash leaves delighted the students. Although not great for the squash, the caterpillars yielded a positive learning experience about the little ecosystem that was unfolding in the garden. One classroom even put some of these caterpillars inside and watched the life cycles evolve before their eyes. “It’s just amazing to me how so many areas of learning were embedded into (the gardens), whether it’s science or social emotional.” Jen shared with me, “our focus here is social, emotional and just caring for living things.”
Amanda Bryant, GardenWorks Programs Manager, visited the gardens each week. She would start off prompting the task of “finding the rainbow.” The new plants that were still very delicate were referred to as “the baby plants,” a phrase which always resulted in “Awws” and coos; the kids learned to observe and began taking on leadership roles, ready to nurture these plant babies.
A major highlight was the farmers’ market that the children hosted, displaying their harvest as you would see at your own local market. Because such a large part of the Educare model is connected with the families, the farmstand was a perfect opportunity and creative way to exercise this. Isabella emphasized, “They were very engaged in the whole process that they were so excited to take it home with the family, with their parents.” GardenWorks connected with eleven program families that desired to grow in personal garden beds. Back at the school, one of the “Pizza” shaped garden beds (Perfect for keeping the little ones safe from sharp edges or corners easy to fall over) was dedicated to salsa ingredients. It was exciting for many of the children to recognize ingredients and flavors they are familiar with, connecting the produce to their larger experience, identity, and community.
Isabella and Jen mentioned how grateful they are for the time and effort the team at GardenWorks has put into supporting them. Jen added, “To become involved and interested in the same thing brings people together. Gardens bring people together. You’re out there and you’re with the teachers and you’re with the children and you’re in a little ecosystem there and you’re all learning together.”
For this year’s planting season, Educare would like to expand what they grow, and learn more healthy recipes incorporating the garden vegetables and create a pollinator garden. We can’t wait to dig in.
Adrien Guadagnino has always found connection with community and the sacred through gardening. Currently in school for Art Therapy Counseling, Adrien knows the importance of collective collaboration and believes healing comes when individuals are supported by those around them, and what better place to witness this in action than a garden. Originally from Milwaukee WI, Adrien now has found their home in Chicago and has worked many years in landscaping, specializing in midwest natives as well as urban farming. They are happy to be working with GardenWorks and learning from an organization that greatly impacts food accessibility for their Neighbors.