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The following article appeared in the June 2000 issue of Chatter, the magazine of the African Violet Society of Canada

Growing African Violets at School
by Bill Westbrook

I didn’t know quite what to expect, when I called the Elementary School near my home, to propose that I start a school project, that would have me teaching Grade 3 kids to grow African violets. Although I had done my homework by reviewing the fine examples set by pioneers like Ina Beaver, Doris Brownlie and Lynn Lombard, and had checked the Grade 3 Curriculum requirements for the Province of Ontario I was still uncertain.

When I spoke to the Vice Principal, she said she would bring it up at the next Staff Meeting. She called me later to report that her teachers were enthusiastic. Indeed throughout the ensuing project, the school staff have been most co-operative and appreciative.

The "Growing African Violets at School" project is designed to give youngsters, in elementary schools, an opportunity to use violets to learn about the requirements of plants and the effects of changes in environmental conditions. Experience over a ten year period in Toronto suggests that Grades 3 to 5 can benefit most from a project like this. This includes students in the age range from 8 to 11 years.

The project consists of the following:
At the beginning of the school year, in September, each child is given an AV leaf that has been started and is already showing baby plants or if you start early enough, each child can be given a leaf that he or she can start themselves. The goal is to have a violet in bloom for Mother’s Day.

Each student is responsible for watering his/her plant that is growing on a small light stand.

In January, or whenever the babies are ready for separation from the mother leaf, the teacher, or volunteer, shows the child how to transplant a baby to a small pot, with saucer.

In May, each child should have a blooming violet to give their Mother, on Mother’s Day. If your AV Society has a Show, the kids can enter in a class of their own and compete for a rosette, a ribbon or maybe even a McDonald’s Gift Certificate

As a volunteer violet consultant, my responsibility was to be there, to help the teacher, to be a source of leaves, provide fertilized water, as required, and answer questions. An average commitment works out to about one hour a week, per class. In the early stages of the project it could be more, if it is your first time.

I found the kids, in Grade 3, a joy to work with. At 8 or 9 years of age they were quite inquisitive, uninhibited and unaffected. Furthermore, at that age, they still respect their elders.

Frequently, I found myself agreeing with Bill Cosby that "kids say the darndest things". As I was leaving the school one day a little girl who was helping me asked if I did this all the time. When I answered in the negative, she ventured that I probably do it to meet little kids.

One day when I was reviewing the origin of the African violet, a boy asked me "who put the first African violet in Africa?" Not wanting to appear clueless, I answered that it was God.

During a discussion on how we can tell which way a window faces, one young man suggested that we refer to the stars. As a one time RCAF navigator, I could see the logic, providing you can identify Polaris, the north star. At this point another boy said, as a Boy Scout, he would use his compass.

In a project of this kind it helps to be alert to try and avoid accidents. A plumbing problem in one of my class-rooms required a temporary change in the location of the light stand to another room. When it was relocated, the timer was connected incorrectly, with the result that the lights were on 24 hours a day, for several weeks. In one of Doris Brownlie’s classes in the Toronto area the class monitor was given the responsibility for watering the plants. He reasoned that if a little fertilizer was good, a lot was even better. He must have been about as popular as the proverbial ‘skunk at a garden party’ when the kids had to tell their mother what happened. Ina Beaver, in Dartmouth, tells about the teacher, that volunteered to take the class plants to the African Violet Show, in their area. When he left them in his car on a hot day they were somewhat wilted, however the judges were able to make allowance for the accident.

The AVSC Convention was held in Ottawa this year. Associated with the customary Education Tables we had a School Project Table with 19 of the students entering their plants. The kids were thrilled to read the comments provided by an AVSA Judge (Doris Brownlie) on what they could do to improve their violet. A gift certificate, along with special blue ribbons, and Best in Class rosettes were awarded.

Some of the students asked me how they should take care of their plants after they take it home. To answer their questions and to provide teachers and volunteers an on-line information service, about growing African violets, in the classroom, I designed a Web Site located at:
http://bill-westbrook.tripod.com/
Since the majority, of the class members, are on the Internet this has proven to be a popular service.

The "Growing African Violets at School" Web Site is an on-line source of information for teachers and volunteers who would like to start a school project, and the kids involved. Thanks to help from people, like Richard Trout, in Australia, the FAQ (frequently asked questions) have proven useful to kids, from eight to eighty.

When the project was winding down, I was invited to an "Appreciation Party". Following cup cakes decorated with icing and jelly beans, I was given letters and hand made cards by the kids. One of the letters said, ‘hope you enjoyed the project as much as we did’. Well as you may know, when you volunteer for helping others, you always get more back than you give. This was no exception.

It was all worthwhile, when I heard about one little boy named Carson. His teacher tells me he is now ‘hooked on plants’. His father says he has started helping his grandmother with her gardening, and his Mom tells me he has taken over the kitchen with his plants.