June 5, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Rain gardens, berms and swales, Permaculture, eco-systems, zero waste, watersheds, bio-regions, planting guilds – this is the language of a two-week summer program for selected Barry University and Siena Heights University students as they explore and experience the environment and learn to work with and for nature.
Now in its second year, the Environmental Leadership Experience brought a disparate group of students to the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse May 13-27, 2018. Through team work, hands-on work, talks, meditation, and tours of local sustainability efforts, the students learn about eco-systems and the principles and practices of Permaculture, a system of learning from and working with the systems of nature in designing and implementing agriculture.
The program is coordinated by Sister Corinne Sanders, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Sustainability Office; Elaine Johnson, Permaculture Specialist for the Adrian Dominican Sisters; and Sister Carol Coston, OP, founding Director of Permaculture. Both Siena Heights and Barry Universities collaborate in the program. Speakers included Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress of the Congregation and former Director of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence; and staff members from local sustainability sites that students visited.
Participants spent much of their time outdoors, working in the permaculture area of the Motherhouse. Service projects included installing deer fencing around the community garden; conducting a waste audit of the Motherhouse; planting an edible forest garden; and building a vermiculture system, in which worms are used to compost organic waste. In a blog, students described their experience and what they’d learned.
A key experience for Pa Sheikh Ngom, a Barry University international business major from Gambia in West Africa, came toward the end of the experience. “We saw everything we talked about [earlier in the experience] come together.” After spending their time drawing sketches of a garden, the students had the opportunity to plant trees and shrubs.
But along with specific skills needed to work in agriculture and to be good stewards of the environment, the students learned to think in a new way about the environment and about life.
“As humans we impose so much on our surroundings – but nature was already there,” said Ashley Ferguson, a Master’s of Social Work candidate at Barry University. “Now I understand that you can look to nature to learn how to build.” She hopes to use some of what she learned in the program to enhance her own garden.
The daily practice of meditation and opportunities to speak to the Sisters also gave the students inspiration and a new perspective. Matthew Mohammed, a business and mathematics major at Barry, said the experience “motivated and inspired me to want to travel more. [The Sisters] showed me that there’s more to life than the simple problems we go through every day.” Matthew said he also learned to appreciate the beauty around him – whether the buildings in Miami or the natural surroundings in Michigan.
The students – most of whom had never met one another before the Environmental Leadership Experience – came to see themselves as part of a team.
“Through this experience, we have developed a deeper understanding of what the term ‘sustainability’ truly means, and learned that simple changes, big and small, can be quite effective at making a difference,” wrote Stephanie Bingham, Associate Professor of Marine Biology at Barry University, in her blog entry. “In the process, we have also built strong alliances in our quest for creating a more sustainable future for ourselves and those who come after us. … We leave this experience inspired to do our small parts in raising the level of consciousness surrounding more sustainable and ecologically responsible approaches.”
May 24, 2018, Hinckley, Ohio – A township in north-central Ohio seems a long way from Mosul, Iraq, or from the refugee camps in northern Iraq. But these distant areas were recently connected by a Japanese girl who folded paper cranes, a Dominican artist and art teacher who painted paper cranes, an elementary school art teacher, and a class of compassionate and innovative fifth-grade students.
This connection can now be seen in three small paintings of folded paper cranes displayed in the library of Hinckley Elementary School in Hinckley, Ohio. The cranes were brought to the school through the innovation of a fifth-grade art class that raised more than their goal of 1,000 quarters – a total of nearly $364 – from their classmates as a donation to support the work of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Mosul, Iraq.
Katie Hatch Massaro, the art teacher at Hinckley Elementary School in Hinckley, Ohio, has for 10 years been teaching her students the story of 1,000 paper cranes folded by Sadako Saski, a 12-year-old Japanese girl who was exposed to the atomic bomb at Hiroshima and died of leukemia 10 years later. The heart-wrenching story of this young girl inspired Sister Barbara Cervenka, OP, to create 1,000 small paintings of paper cranes, which can be adopted for a donation of $100. The donations have helped the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine of Siena who fled Mosul with hundreds of thousands of their neighbors on August 6, 2014, with the arrival of ISIS warriors. During their time in a refugee camp in northern Iraq, the Sisters opened schools and clinics to serve the needs of their fellow refugees.
Many of the Sisters and other refugees have since returned to their homes after ISIS was expelled, but now face the challenges of rebuilding their homes and churches that were destroyed.
“I’ve been teaching about paper cranes for 10 years,” said Katie, a student of Sister Barbara’s and a 2007 graduate of Siena Heights University. She teaches her fifth-grade classes the story of Sadako and how to fold the paper cranes. In recent years, she has followed this lesson up with the story of Sister Barbara’s project. “We talked about what it meant to be a refugee,” she said. They understood that the Sisters and neighbors were forced out of their homes, and that the donations would help the people.
Katie didn’t initiate the idea of the class making a donation for a crane in support of the refugees. “I wanted the kids to be self-motivated” and to come up with the idea on their own, she said.
Her wait came to an end this semester when a student suggested making a donation for one of the paintings, Katie recalled. Students discussed the idea during lunch and a small group approached her. “I worked with them through the whole process,” she said, by encouraging them to find a way that they could raise the money on their own. Students decided to collect 1,000 quarters from among their fifth-grade classmates.
“The kids assigned jobs to everyone in the class and even built their own website,” Katie recalled. They created a presentation for the principal, James Carpenter, and the Parent-Teacher Organization to secure permission and garner support for the project. Just two weeks after they presented the project to their classmates, they had exceeded their goal. Because they wanted to add framing to their order, they intended to order two cranes, but the PTO suggested they order three – and offered to supplement the money that the students had raised.
The process did not end there, Katie added. The class took a vote to choose the cranes paintings they wanted, choosing green cranes to match the school’s color.
The students later reflected on the impact that the project had on them. “It was tough and challenging, but it was worth it,” one student said. Others spoke of the impact they hoped the project will have on the Sisters in Iraq and the people they serve. “It was a good opportunity to help people and inspire other students once we’ve left Hinckley Elementary School,” one student said. Another made the connection to the story of the 1,000 cranes folded in Japan and to Sister Barbara. “The inspiration chain goes from Sadako to her classmates to the 1,000 Crane Project for Iraq to us at Hinckley Elementary,” the student said. “We hope it keeps going!”
Katie is very proud of her fifth-grade class, which will graduate at the end of May from Hinckley Elementary School and move on to middle school. “I’ve always seen leadership and initiative in a lot of them,” she said. “It was a privilege to be able to walk them through this process and watch them stretch their wings for the first time.” Noting that she had taught art to that class since they were in kindergarten, she added, “It’s an honor to see them come as kindergartners and leave so grown up, young teenagers.”
Katie hopes all of her students benefit from their study of art. “I want them to leave me knowing that art can make a difference, that art is part of our culture. It’s part of our identity,” she said. “I want them to have an appreciation for art.”
Fifth-grade students from Hinckley Elementary School, Hinckley, Ohio, pose with the three cranes that they ordered with their donation to the 1,000 Cranes for Iraq Project. Photo Courtesy of Hinckley Elementary School