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Painting stepping stones helps build sense of garden ownership

Godwin Heights — Second-grader Ximena Martinez carefully considered the question of why she had painted a ladybug on a stepping stone.

“Do you remember what we said about what ladybugs do?” asked HOPE Gardens lead teacher Holly Smith. “They eat the bad bugs, right?”

Ximena nodded her head yes. And while she admitted she likes ladybugs, there was another reason she painted one: “I like the color red,” she said.

Ximena’s paving stone is one of several that create a three-way path into the “Helping Other People Eat” garden at West Godwin Elementary School. The garden is a collaboration between West Godwin’s TEAM 21 after-school program and HOPE Gardens, a Wyoming-based nonprofit that teaches K-12 students about sustainable ways to grow food.

Sense of Ownership

Founders Rich and Julie Brunson of Byron Center host gardens at 13 schools in Kent County. West Godwin has had its HOPE Garden since 2019. It is located in the courtyard, where it is slowly taking over the greenspace.

“I believe a teacher had started a garden on the spot, but then she retired,” Smith said. Former TEAM 21 site coordinator and current West Godwin teacher Ellen Veenkant received a grant from the Michigan Community Service Council to plant a new garden, then connected with HOPE Gardens.

Members visit the West Godwin garden weekly, and Manager Sarah Samosiuk helps harvest and maintain the area. Smith leads lessons to TEAM 21 members in gardening basics, providing fresh produce, and how they connect students to their community.

“They always want to know when the people in the garden are coming,” said Meagan Pifer, West Godwin’s TEAM 21 site coordinator. “It is a good way to learn about healthy eating.” 

Added Smith: “When Rich comes to talk to the students he always points to the garden and asks, ‘Now, who owns this garden?’ It is about giving them a sense of ownership… We don’t own the garden, they do. So the response is, ‘It’s our garden.’”

Samosiuk said teachers are encouraged to utilize the garden for their classrooms, providing a scavenger hunt that invites exploration.

Checking out the garden are, from left, TEAM 21 Site Coordinator Meagan Pifer, HOPE Gardens lead teacher Holly Smith, HOPE Garden Manager Sarah Samosiuk, second-grader Ximena Martinez, and first-grader John Barriga

Watch For Strawberries

Of course, every garden needs a little love and sometimes the gardeners need some direction on where to walk.

“The idea for the stepping stones came because little kids and little feet don’t know where to go,” Smith said. “So, it is basically so the students don’t step on a strawberry when they are walking through.”

As students prepared the garden this summer, they worked in pairs to paint the pavers. For inspiration, they were advised to think about what makes them happy. They had to problem solve and collaborate when decorating their stone, Samosiuk said. 

What makes first-grader John Barriga happy is playing and being outside, he said, so the bright colors of his half of the paver are a mix of green, blue, yellow and red.

John also said it will be neat to have his younger siblings see the paver stones and be able to show them which one he did.

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma covers Kent ISD and Godwin Heights. She was born in the Detroit area but grew up in Brighton where she attended Hartland Public Schools. The salutatorian for the Class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism and minored in photography and German. She expanded her color palette to include orange and black as both her daughters graduated from Byron Center Public Schools; maroon and white for Aquinas College where her daughter studies nursing and also brought back blue and maize for Grand Rapids Community College where her youngest daughter currently is studying music. Read Joanne's full bio

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