For students of Santa Fe Christian, a fundamental part of education is learning what it really means to be a Christian. They often hear about the importance of authentic faith, meaning living out what you believe. This includes a commitment to serve others, as James 2:14 explains: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?” Faith, the verse goes on to say, is accompanied by action.
This biblical principle is at the heart of the SFC elective class, Identity and Sisterhood, taught by Mrs. Kristi Ellis. One aspect of this is service — in the Middle School, teachers often encourage their students and present opportunities for them to serve others. This year gardening became an avenue to serve — and so the Garden Project came to life.
An Idea Comes to Life
The project came about in a way that some might consider coincidence, but Mrs. Ellis knew otherwise. While attending a conference, Mrs. Ellis ended up sitting next to teacher Ms. Chavez who teaches second grade at Johnson Elementary School in San Diego. Johnson Elementary is a K-5 public school located in an under-served community that has many needs. “That ended up being the seat where God wanted me,” says Mrs. Ellis. “And it led to a conversation that the Lord opened up.”</p
During their conversation, Ms. Chavez shared stories about her school, which brought to Mrs. Ellis’ mind to Luke 12:48, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required.” She recalls being struck with the desire to partner meaningfully in SFC’s own community. “It also dovetailed with my personal belief that kids are often their best selves when they are mentoring other, younger kids,” Mrs. Ellis conveyed.
Ignited with passion, the teachers’ actively set out to partner together to create something beautiful at Johnson Elementary. During the first year of their partnership, the SFC girls held a large book drive to meet the need for more books at Johnson Elementary.
This year, Mrs. Ellis and her class were given a new mission — a mission to beautify a space, completely bare and full of dirt, on Johnson Elementary’s campus. “The school just needed some love, environmentally,” says Mrs. Ellis. And thus, the Garden Project was born.
Back in their classroom, each teacher talked to their students about the new garden project. As they expected, the older girls and the second graders were tremendously excited about it.
The girls in the Identity and Sisterhood class became pen pals with the Johnson Elementary second graders — sending hand-drawn pictures and encouragement back and forth. Relationship was at the heart of the project. “It’s really cute to see what they draw for us,” says SFC seventh-grader Megan VanWert, “because they have their little crayons and then it’s like rainbows and stuff … It’s really fun to be able to see what they say.”
After exchanging letters and developing plans for what the garden would look like and the plants it would contain, Mrs. Ellis and the Sisterhood girls went to Johnson Elementary. There, everyone worked together to prepare the soil and do the planting. When they finished, the results were marvelous. “We were able to create a whole corridor on their campus that before was just dirt,” says Mrs. Ellis.
As time goes by, the garden continues to become even more lovely and inviting. Students now use the garden as a place to read, learn about science in a hands-on environment, and spend downtime. “Now it’s filled with beautiful color and it has a reading area for kids … it’s just a special place for them to be.” Not only that, the students also take pride in themselves for creating such a lovely garden with their own hands and giving back to their school.
Gaining from Giving
Word traveled fast about Johnson Elementary’s fabulous new garden. Not long after the project was complete, Mrs. Ellis was contacted by another school, Meridian Elementary, in nearby El Cajon. “They had another need and tapped us and said, ‘Would you be interested in doing this again?’” Of course, the answer was a resounding YES!
With help from the Andersen La Costa Nursery — which provided the students with rakes, shovels, gloves, and plants — SFC’s Identity in Sisterhood girls were once again helping to beautify a school campus with flowers and plants. “[The nursery was] incredibly generous to SFC and loved the partnership with the schools. They saw the big picture — God’s picture,” Mrs. Ellis remarked.
Throughout this experience, the SFC girls have truly enjoyed working with the younger children. “It’s just a great experience,” says Megan, who refers to the kids as “little buddies.” She and the other girls in the Sisterhood class love receiving the children’s letters. Megan says the experience was so rewarding, and she would absolutely recommend Identity and Sisterhood to other girls in Middle School. “It’s so fun and relaxed — Mrs. Ellis makes it fun,” she says. “But at the same time, we learn and gain a lot from it … You can feel God coming out of everyone in what they say.”
Another student with a similar perspective is Sadie, who has also found being involved in the Garden Project an important and meaningful experience. Sadie enjoys developing relationships and being “pen pals” with the younger children. “We’ve been writing back and forth with them,” she says, “and it’s just really fun to get to hear what they say because they’re so young.” Sadie also shares her thoughts about how much the Garden Project has meant to her. “It feels good because it’s like we’re stepping outside of ourselves and doing something to help others.” She says that isn’t something young people do enough because they’re pretty focused on themselves. “So it’s nice to step outside of our comfort zone.”
“That’s What Faith Is”
From their work on the Garden Project, the girls in the Identity and Sisterhood class have gained insight, as well as empathy for others who have many needs. They have learned, says Mrs. Ellis, that “these kids are just like us. They were just born in a different part of the community. And where we have a lot, they may have a little, and where they have a lot, we have a little. And so God is using us to fill one another’s buckets. That’s what faith is to me: the opportunity to be open to what God is doing and recognize the interconnectedness of us all.”
Mrs. Ellis says the experience has taught her students a great deal about themselves, and about the importance of putting their faith to work on behalf of others. “There’s a bigger purpose and our kids are seeking that,” says Mrs. Ellis. “Their hearts need that. That’s what the Lord is able to do through us if we keep our eyes wide open.”