Friday was an outdoor day at Karonhianónhnha as students, teachers, staff and members of the community picked up shovels, spades and dirt and planted. Unfortunately, the pleasant feelings were tainted the next day when a janitor noticed a tree had been stolen. (Daniel J. Rowe, The Eastern Door)
Karonhianónhnha Tsi Ioteriwienhstahkwa principal Earlyn Sharpe stood before the school’s greenhouse Friday during planting day, while young students from the school and volunteers from the Kanien’kéha Ratiwennahní:rats Adult Immersion Program planted trees, dug sod, and laid a butterfly garden.
Come Monday, Sharpe will no longer be at the school, but she leaves behind a legacy that will continue to grow, literally.
The school now has a greenhouse, outdoor classrooms, as well as a number of garden and planting spaces, courtesy of a project started by Sharpe and the administration at the school.
“We were looking at ways of how we could improve the school, language and culture, and how we could best get kids to learn,” said Sharpe, who accepted a position as assistant director of education earlier this year.
When Sharpe began at Karonhianónhnha, the school was not accepting students with special needs in grades one and two. She and associate principal Kanerahtanonhnha Jacobs wanted to change this.
“Here’s the thing. Maybe you have a few challenges, you can say everybody learns differently,” said Sharpe. “We have to address how our kids learn, especially if they can speak the language… You have to address their learning styles. Get them back to the ground.”
The idea of an outdoor classroom, greenhouse and garden project was hit upon as a way to reach these students and the rest of those at the school.
Sharpe wrote funding proposals for the three projects, including one through the Caisse Populaire Kahnawake’s Community Development Fund, to help reach the total bill, which came to almost $100,000.
Though Sharpe is not from Kahnawake, she immediately embraced the school’s mission.
“What I did know, and what I’ve always respected is the language, the culture, where they were coming from at Karonhianónhnha School,” said Sharpe. “I’m an outsider coming in. How can I make it better? How can I make it stronger? Where are the gaps? That’s where we always come from.”
The day of planting and using the language in a practical setting was an opportunity for those in the Ratiwennahní:rats to get out of the classroom and use what they’ve learned.
“I enjoy getting together with the youth because we don’t just teach them, we learn from them too,” said Cassidy Meloche, who is in her second year of the program.
“We were planting trees, but we were also encouraging one another to have natural conversations and connect what we’ve learned in Kanien’kéha to everyday, out of school experiences.”
For Sharpe, seeing the greenhouse complete, gardens planted and outdoor classroom being used, was exciting.
“I’ve been here for three years, and sometimes when your nose is at the computer, and you’re working and you’re doing all of this, it doesn’t give you a minute to look back and say, ‘oh my God. All of that has happened!’” she said.
“I’m looking at this beautiful greenhouse, the butterfly garden….it’s right next to the nursery and kindergarten. The kids are so excited and the community came out and supported us.”
Sharpe broke down in tears before cutting the ceremonial ribbon to open the greenhouse, knowing that the eager children ready to learn and grow will not surround her every day.
“It’s a day of learning, and the kids are enjoying it, and I realized I really had something to do with that, and it was very, very humbling,” said Sharpe. “The most humbling experience because I see how much I have learned.”