Last week one of our middle school classes, which typically has 12 students, showed up to horticulture class with only 6 in attendance, while the other half were on field trips. I didn’t want to move forward with our botany lesson since there were so many students out, so I decided to ask this group if they could help tackle our greenhouse “to-do” list.
I was immediately beset with a few requests for craft supplies, and while there was no crafting on my never-ending list, I could tell 2 particular students had a definitive objective in mind. I set them up with their desired materials, while our garden teaching assistant Mr. Kevin enlisted the help of 2 others in concocting compost tea. (Don’t shudder, the only ones drinking this hearty brew of beneficial microbes and nutrients are our plants; it’s a great organic tonic!) A fifth student was happy to get busy tackling our heap of pots and trays that needed cleaning before they could be stowed away until needed. And then there was Jayko, the sixth student.
Jayko is an incredibly kind, patient child that happens to love tea. Sure, lots of the kids here love the brew we share at the end of horticulture class, but I can sense a deeper appreciation of the beverage from Jayko. I see it when he helps to cultivate and harvest our herbs, I see it when he makes his custom tea bags for gift-giving, and I see it every time he receives his cup of tea at the end of each class. It seemed a natural fit to ask Jayko to make the tea for the day.
With minimal direction, I passed on the pertinent information necessary:
- We would need 5 tea bags; one for each class throughout the day.
- The location of the class-size tea bags.
- The layout of the “tea caddy,” which holds, among other supplies, mortars and pestles and an assortment of herbs and spices cultivated, harvested and stored by Green Chimneys students.
He graciously accepted my challenge and was happy to get to work. As I returned to the crafters to check in with their progress, I overheard Mr. Kevin ask Jayko to make the tea bags at the other student table. The table Jayko had chosen was being used to chop up the ingredients for the compost tea. We may be gardeners with dirt under our nails, but we definitely like to keep the compost tea separate from the herbal tea!
After helping iron out an issue or 2 with the crafters (who were busy trying to figure out how to make flower sculptures out of yarn, paper, cups and markers), I went to check in with our pot-washer. Assured that the water and soap were being used judiciously, I turned to see Jayko putting a drawer of tea supplies on the compost tea-making table. I reminded him of the importance of keeping things we will ingest sanitary, and his response surprised me.
“I’m bringing the herbs over to show the kids. This way they can tell me what they like,” he explained.
It may not seem like a big thing, but his reply just about bowled me over. At 13, how many kids actually stop and think what others may like? I assigned the task of tea-making to Jayko for 2 reasons: I knew he could accomplish the task independently, and I knew he loves tea. I just assumed that he would want to make all the decisions.
I quickly apologized and stood back to watch him quietly move around the room, softly asking his classmates to tell him what kind of tea they would like. He then went to the clean work table and got down to business. The next time I checked in with him, he had a bowl full of perfect looking tea bags and he was ready to take the next step, actually brewing up a pot of tisane for us.
Of course the tea was delicious, and everyone on our roster that day happened to be tea lovers. (Believe it or not, there are some students who don’t enjoy herbal tea!) I spent a lot of time reflecting on this scenario later that day and the days that followed. Part of me was disappointed that I had clearly been (subconsciously) cynical about teenagers and their ability to think outside themselves. Or maybe it was that I hadn’t picked up on Jayko’s maturity level. The flip side of these emotions though, was the feeling of delight at witnessing this child’s generosity of spirit. That realization brought several smiles to this tea lovers face.