Winning over audience sometimes takes time

Sometimes the intended audience for what someone thinks is a great idea does not jump immediately with delight. The first week of school in Albany provides two examples, one involving an offer of luscious vine-ripened tomatoes and the other an offer of an opportunity to move some instruction outdoors.

Neither was embraced with the enthusiasm that we thought would be almost automatic. Perhaps we forgot some of lessons we have learned slowly over the years of digging in the dirt with Albany kids and talking with paid educators about what the Vegetable Project is about. Really, we know from experience that neither group can be rushed into something unfamiliar. And we know that our own enthusiasm can feel more like pressure to the intended audience, which definitely does not help.

So we stumbled. But, with ongoing encouragement of friends in the community who say our ideas make some sense. We will keep trying. Here are two brief stories:

Eying big plump tomatoes on the vine the evening before the first day of classes, we asked an old friend at Myers Middle School who teaches about nutrition and food preparation if he would like some and would slice them up and offer to his students. He said yes, of course. But he reported back after a couple of classes that the juicy fruit were not selling like hot cakes. Some students did taste and enjoy our produce as the day went along. But the offer was not a smashing success.

Separately, we have been championing the notion for some time now of bringing some teaching and learning outside, where students and teachers alike can take in nature’s amazing ability to calm and stimulate simultaneously. We were thrilled to learn in the days before classes started that the Myers leadership team, principal Bill Rivers and assistant principal Brianna Olsen, had arranged to bring several tents to the middle school for exactly what we have been envisioning (tents that other principals in the district apparently had no interest in using). They sat unused, however, under sparkling blue skies on a comfortable afternoon when we had a chance to stop by, when we might have guessed there would be a race to see who could grab them first.

We still are pretty confident that all things being equal, more opportunities for doing and touching and tasting and experiencing will support wellbeing among Albany kids and that wellbeing will in turn support better educational outcomes. At the same time, we have our work cut out in presenting those opportunities effectively.

The short-term plan is to take the same classes that did not swoon over our tomatoes out to the garden to walk around and touch and taste. Then we’ll talk to teachers in the building about the experience.

–Bill Stoneman

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