By Matilda Peck
On a hot day in August, I wandered through the San Francisco Botanical Garden, slightly lost. I’d come to meet the Climate Corps Education Outside (CCEO) Fellows, a group of passionate garden educators, in the midst of orientation for the 2023-2024 school year. Just as I was doubting my navigation, I heard laughter and excited voices up ahead and knew I’d come to the right place. The trail opened to a large clearing where thirty-six CCEO Fellows were gathering for lunch.
The energy of the group was palpable, and Fellows talked excitedly about the school year ahead, during which they’d each steward a campus garden and teach outdoor science and environmental literacy lessons. “I've always wanted to become a teacher,” shared Simone Wright, a Fellow at Garden Village Elementary School. “Being a garden educator will allow me to explore different methods of teaching and discover how or where I want my career to grow.”
“I loved being in nature in any capacity as a child,” Aaron Bermillo shared, a Fellow at ER Taylor Elementary School. “In this role, I can inspire curiosity in the students regarding the world around them.” During the two-week orientation, Fellows built skills in teaching and facilitation, garden maintenance and food production, and community outreach. They also identified their reasons for being in the program. “Spending time outside with curious minds is definitely my core driving force for being a garden educator,” said Dmi Rodriguez, a Fellow at Dolores Huerta Elementary School.
When I first met the educators in the Botanical Garden, they were still getting to know each other and what their CCEO fellowships would entail. Many weeks later, they have settled into their roles and respective school communities. I reached out to ask the Fellows about their experiences so far.
“The biggest thing that stands out is the feeling of community in the school,” Simone Wright replied. “Working in education is stressful — not only on the teachers but the students. Everyone at Garden Village tries their best to support everyone. The teachers reassure me in my teaching, and the students help out by sharing their personal expertise about the natural world.”
“Dolores Huerta has been such a welcoming community,” Dmi Rodriguez shared. “The thing that excites me most about the year ahead is being creative in the garden. We started our first week by singing a Charlotte Diamond song called ‘Somos como las flores,’ which was so fun. I am hoping to encourage creativity with cooking lessons, art lessons, and maybe even some theater and acting.”
Aaron Bermillo said: “The love and care that the ER Taylor Elementary School community has shown me has been overwhelming. From the staff, students, and surrounding neighbors, everyone's ecstatic to have someone bringing in outdoor education. I am most excited to foster a generation of future leaders that care about the environment as much as they care for each other. And to grow and eat some snap peas!”
The school year ahead holds lots of learning – for students and garden educators alike. Exciting things are in store for the Fellows, their new communities, and their gardens around the Bay Area. While Fellows will take different paths through their fellowship, they will surely find laughter along the way. And snap peas.
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