The estimated reading time for this post is 4 minutes
(This blog post comes from our December 1 podcast episode, which you can find here.)
My mom grew up in Nebraska, and I don’t know if that had anything to do with her penchant for gardening, but as she raised her family in Southern California, she declared, “We’re going to have a garden. It’s going to be robust.” It was wild. We had zucchinis. They were out of control. Pumpkins. We had corn, tomatoes, all these amazing producing plants. And it was a big garden. Big enough to hide in. But I remember the day, she said, “We’re going to go out, and you….you’re going to plant something. I’m sure it was summer and she was probably thinking of strategies to keep us from pestering her all summer. You know, “You’re driving me nuts since I have all this time with you.” She said, “We’re going to go out and you’re going to plant your own row in the garden.”
And so I got to plant carrots. Every day, I would go out to the garden and say, “Oh, I did…..” And there would be nothing there. I know I had put the seed in. I had covered it with soil. I had watered it. It was getting watered. But I wouldn’t see anything. I remember being very frustrated as a child. “How long does a carrot take to grow?” You know, I was so frustrated as a little kid. And so, and I still don’t know the answer to that question: how long does it take a carrot to grow? So, a week went by, you know, two weeks, three weeks, I don’t know. And eventually, like a little green stem like poked up, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh!” I think I’d lost faith by the time that little green stem poked up. I thought, “Oh, my gosh. It’s real.” And then you have to water and you make sure, you know, keep it healthy. You have to keep it clear of whatever predator carrots may have.
But my point is this – I think an important element of social engagement, getting our students connected with how their learning connects with others, or said another way, how their learning makes an impact in the world, is starting with that seed. You can’t start with the full product. You can’t just say, “Oh, you know what? We have an internship with NASA and our kids partner with NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL.” Which, by the way, we do have in Santa Ana Unified. We have students who go and they intern at JPL. It’s amazing.
While it’s amazing, how many students get that opportunity? So, we have to work, right? We have to plant these seeds where every student gets a chance to have a learning experience that’s socially engaged, making a difference in the world. For example, I will share just one other story. The students at the SanArts Conservatory at Santa Ana High School receive access to master classes with master artists. The conservatory has artists from the community come in and work with students. Dance students have masters classes, theater has master classes and the rest. In the visual arts, there’s a visiting artist associated with an Instagram account called “Faces Of Santa Ana.” If you haven’t checked it out, check it out. Faces of Santa Ana account belongs to a local painter, Brian, and he paints these gorgeous portraits of homeless people, sells them, and he donates the money to the people whose portrait he painted. He initially spoke to the students and shared how he is working with the homeless population. He saw them in his neighborhood, and he thought, “I have to meet these people and get to know them.” He felt led to engage them with his art, so he started to paint them. It all happened organically, but now, he is coming in and doing master’s classes, and the students are are painting portraits of homeless people.
Now, for the students, their art and their learning is coming into connection with this significant social issue in Santa Ana and beyond, and so the students are thinking about those problems in different ways. Their art is beginning to reach out beyond the boundaries of their classroom, thanks to willing mentors from the community and dedicated people like the visual arts teacher and those helping the conservatory make and sustain connections like this, like our program specialist of Visual and Performing Arts, Robyn MacNair.
A photo posted by Wes Kriesel (@weskriesel) on
In summary, significant and authentic social engagement takes patience, like the planting and growing of the carrots I experienced when I was young. Look for fertile ground. Nurture these opportunities. Stick with it, my friends!