PITTSFIELD >> What do red clown noses and rows of beans and basil have in common?
They're all part of efforts at Conte Community School to make the school garden a vibrant venue to learn not only new skills but to grow by learning about issues of poverty and hunger that affect communities near and far.
On Tuesday, students in the school's after-school gardening, nutrition, and Kids' Club programs are teaming up to host a public plant sale from 3:15 to 5:30 p.m. at the school. The event will feature seedlings grown by the students, like basil and sunflowers and flowering plants donated from the Pittsfield High School horticulture program.
Part of the proceeds will help finance gardening supplies, seeds and fencing for the garden and, new to the sale this year, another portion of the proceeds will go to support the Red Nose Day campaign. The latter is an international comic relief effort, with the backing of Walgreens and NBC, that helps raise awareness and funds for kids living in poverty.
To help raise awareness, some students in the nutrition and gardening clubs this past Thursday, the same day NBC held its Red Nose Day comedy special, Conte and Egremont Elementary School cafeteria managers, Bonnie Connors and Pam Burton, passed out red noses to their club members as well as cafeteria workers during the school's breakfast program. Burton said Egremont is working to develop a similar gardening program to run in tandem with its existing nutrition program.
More than one child walked in the cafeteria that day and saw adults and kids wearing the clown noses and asked, "What the heck is going on here?" The children and cafeteria staff then explained over and over again the cause and the tie-in to the school garden.
Fourth-graders Julius Davis, Va'sean Pettijohn and Traquon Hall collectively dubbed Red Nose Day and the gardening and nutrition programs as "fun" and "cool."
"It helps kids get active and get outside," Pettijohn said of the garden program.
Asked what he thought about Red Nose Day, Pettijohn said, "I think it's important because a lot of kids all around the world don't have a school to go to and they don't have plants to grow in their garden, and this could help them."
Community gardener Julia Lemieux, who works with students at Conte and Morningside community schools, said students have a broad awareness of how the school's garden helps others.
"It's neat to see the kids want to come back to the garden year after year to help and grow and eat things," she said.
"They love it," said Kids Club teacher Marsha Karlson, who helps incorporate garden-themed reading and vocabulary activities into the academic component of the program.
The after-school and meal programs at Conte are a lifeline for many students and families. Not only do the programs provide academic and skills support, but also emotional and social support.
According to current state data, 76 percent of the school's population of 386 pre-kindergarten through Grade 5 students qualify for the federal free and reduced price meals program.
Pam Burton and Bonnie Connors said in the nutrition program, it's important for them to share recipes with simple instructions that don't necessarily require an oven, and that are made with basic and affordable but healthy ingredients.
"The issue of poverty and hunger does hit home for us lunch ladies — we do feed the kids that are affected. ... So we're all doing this together to be proactive in the schools," Burton said.
"We feed the children to make sure they get the food they need to fuel the soul. We want to make sure we do something good for our children — make sure they eat. It is so simple, and yet hard to do," she said. "But the least we can do to make a difference for our kids is to teach then to eat right and make good choices."
Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.
If you go ...
What: Conte Community School Plant Sale, featuring vegetable and herb seedlings and flowering plants
When: 3:15 to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Conte Community School garden (or gym if it rains), 200 West Union St., Pittsfield