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It may have seemed as if the day would never arrive, but at last it's time to plant! All the preparation, hard work, excitement and anticipation that have been building for months now come to a peak as your site becomes almost instantly and magically transformed.
Breaking ground, getting dirty and engaging in hands-on tasks to transform the space will provide some of the most enjoyable and memorable moments of the project. You'll have kids (and maybe even a few adults) bouncing with energy and excitement. You've been working toward this for a long time - expectations will be high, and so will the potential for a bit of chaos.
As for any event, a bit of organizational prep will ensure the day runs smoothly. Depending on the age group of the students and the size of the event, you'll want to have lots of teachers and parent volunteers on hand. These supervisors can work with the students to keep things manageable.
Also, make sure your site is fully prepared before the planting day. This means completing all major landscaping activities. You don't want a backhoe moving around the site in the midst of a bunch of excited students.
Permits - Ensure that you have obtained any permits necessary to hold the event. Check with the works department and the power and phone companies to ensure there are no cables or pipes below ground.
Organizing work teams - Before the big day, hold an orientation session for participants to ensure that they have all the information they need to carry out the tasks successfully, including proper planting methods. To ensure that the plants, paths and ponds end up where they were supposed to and in the way they were intended, it is worthwhile to organize participants into teams and to assign specific and rotating duties to each team. Team tasks could include digging holes, carrying water, laying mulch and, of course, planting. Another way to organize teams is to assign them to a particular planting area and have them complete all the tasks in that one part of the site. If the whole school is to be involved, rotate the involvement of different classes over the course of the day. Some schools have found it best to train older students during the morning, then have them act as leaders along with parent volunteers during the afternoon to guide younger students.
Prepare a handout for the day - A brief handout can be very useful for orienting participants to the site and providing them with basic information. A map of the site that indicates the location of washrooms, refreshment stands and planting areas should be included. It may also include a short description and simple diagram of proper planting techniques.
Food and refreshments - Reward hard-working volunteers with snacks and drinks during the day. This is a great opportunity to have a local restaurant demonstrate its support for your project with a donation of sandwiches and snacks.
Marking the planting areas - Mark off planting areas with stakes and strings well in advance to make expectations clear. If the planting is to be done over successive days, colour-code the areas to indicate which ones are to be planted on what days. Leave the string boundaries in place until the plants have had a chance to grow to protect them from being trampled.
Weather considerations - Be prepared for all kinds of weather. Especially for early spring and late fall plantings, tell the children to come dressed in warm layers. Raincoats are a must. And remember, good solid shoes, preferably boots, will help you push the shovel into the ground. For hot summer days, have lots of water on hand and sunscreen readily available. Hats are a must.
Group spokesperson - The event itself will generate curiosity among passersby. Designate someone to be a spokesperson for the group to explain the project, answer any questions and encourage participation. This same person could also be available for media interviews. These events are great opportunities to promote the project and solicit further community support.
Display area - At the entrance to the site, set out the materials that have been produced during previous phases of the project. Use a display board to post site plans, designs, photographs, artwork, stories, brochures - anything that has been produced related to the project.
Support people - Once the work gets under way, volunteers will most certainly have questions. It can be very useful to have a team of knowledgeable support people available to provide direction and assistance when required. These support people should be easily identifiable. Perhaps they could wear a particular hat or T-shirt or a special badge.
Submitted by: Ted McLachlan, teacher, Windsor School, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Looking at your school ground design and wondering how all that work will get done? Here is an example from Windsor School in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
When it came to filling the planters we could have simply ordered the soil and had it deposited directly into the planters - but we didn't. To reinforce the curriculum integration, a class was asked to measure the planters, calculate the volume and estimate the soil required. When the soil arrived, it was dumped on the adjacent asphalt. To instill in the students a sense of ownership of the project, a "Dirt Day" was held. All kindergarten to Grade 3 children brought in ice-cream pails and formed a brigade to fill the planters. Consequently, not a speck of soil has been removed from the planters since.
Publicize your planting days well in advance. Get the word out through community papers, organization newsletters and the Community Events section of the major daily newspapers. Distribute flyers and brochures, display posters on bulletin boards in stores and libraries, and post announcements on your Web site (if you have one) and the Web sites of local groups.
Arrange for your own documentation of the planting process. Record events in writing and with photographs and videos. Interview participants as they are working and record their responses.
Assemble a list of media contacts that will be interested in your story. Include newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations. Make an effort to get your story into the hands of the right people according to their deadlines.
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