Q. Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Kimberly Boyce-Quentin; I have been an elementary school teacher for 20 years - the last 14 at Piney Point. I currently teach STEAM Lab to K-5th graders. I strongly believe in Project Based Learning and that the best learning is built around authentic experiences that are rooted in real world challenges.
Piney Point Elementary has earned an Eco-Schools USA Silver Award along with two Green Flag Awards, the highest honor that can be earned by a school. Piney Point is also home to a Certified Schoolyard Habitat, and is a Monarch Heroes school.
Q. Tell us how Piney Elementary School initially got involved with Eco-Schools USA?
I attended a teacher training sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation highlighting the curriculum they had created for elementary school students. I loved the material and signed up on the email list to be informed about any future opportunities, which brought a notification about a Monarch Heroes training to my inbox one day! It dovetailed perfectly with my implementation of a Fund for Teachers Fellowship about observing wildlife and field studies. It really resonated with the students and I have added new elements to our program every year. Monarch Heroes is now one of the largest and best-established special programs on campus! Our students take a lot of pride in their achievements!
Q. In winter of 2021, much of Texas, including Houston, endured yet another devastating weather event—this time Winter Storm Uri. After seeing the results of 6 years of hard work by students and staff severely damaged by the storm, what inspired you and the rest of the staff and students to continue work on the school garden?
There is always some winter and summer loss, but Uri was devastating! There was never any question about rebuilding and restoring. Four previous years' worth of Monarch Hero alumni were still in the building and a new batch of Monarch Heroes was just freshly earning their wings! These projects are very satisfying for students as they can actually see the progress they make each day and also literally see the impact their work has on the school.
The garden is, in fact, a perfect metaphor for life anyway. You set goals, you achieve things, but even without natural disaster interference, it's never done; it's never finished. There's maintenance, there's new goal setting, improving, adjusting, and, of course, life happens, so there will be rebuilding.
Sadly, this kind of setback is nothing new to our students; for Houstonian children 10 and under every single year of their life has brought some kind of catastrophic disaster. They are, unfortunately, battle-hardened experts at resilience and rebuilding. The gardens are a way for them to see that healing takes place, beauty can return, but it isn't magic; it is time and hard work that heal and restore.
@PineyElem the loss of our spectacular #MonarchHero habitats has been hard. They were the beautiful result of 6 years of dedicated student effort. Our new #GreenHeroes have a tough task ahead, but are determined to rebuild. @EcoSchoolsUSA @HISDGoGreen pic.twitter.com/6aD2uQHVL9— kimberly boyce (@kboyceq) March 5, 2021
Q. You recently were involved in the creation of the Build a Schoolyard Habitat | Be a Monarch Hero! Video! Tell us about some things you enjoyed about your experience contributing to the video.
My students LOVE being part of projects like that! I have participated in Journey North and pen pal projects because the idea of connecting with other people and being part of some larger project that joins all the local efforts is very exciting for them. It makes them feel connected to the wider world and also that what they are doing matters beyond the schoolyard. I love it because it really makes a somewhat abstract concept—Think Globally/ Act Locally—concrete for my 6 year old students.
Q. What environmental message do you think the students at Piney Point Elementary would like to share with other students around the country?
Plant a pollinator garden! I stress every day to our Kinder Green Heroes and 1st grade Monarch Heroes that they ARE truly heroes. Their work makes the whole world a better place, not just Piney Point; they really do save lives when they pick up litter and plant host and nectar plants.
Q. If you were speaking to a teacher who wanted to create an outdoor learning space this school year, what advice would you give them?
Start small and build up! Even a few host or nectar plants in containers offer a lot of potential for observation and wildlife engagement. Also, ask for help! My specific location has made volunteers/ community partnerships challenging, but botanical gardens, arboretums, nature centers, and Master Gardener/ Naturalist programs could offer local expertise (and if you are lucky, plants/ labor!).
Share your favorite pollinator and what makes it special?
Monarchs! Personal attachment after years of proselytizing, their extraordinary migration, physical beauty, and cultural significance all combine with their ecological role to make them a favorite.
Bonus Question: You recently had the opportunity to visit the Galápagos Islands as part of Fund for Teachers Program®. Describe your favorite wildlife sighting.
Everything! Every beach, hill, rock, tortoise, penguin, and shark was amazing. However, I did develop a bit of a special feeling for storm petrels! They are such tiny, beautiful birds. They're the smallest sea bird in the archipelago, jet black, with a lovely white bar at the base of their tail. As small as they are, they are out there on the open sea somehow. We had a couple of very rough passages - 10 -12 foot swells crashing all over and there are these little birds! Racing through the storm and spray — it seems impossible that they aren't overtaken by the waves and that the salt water doesn't weigh down their wings. They weren't on anyone's checklist; no one ever brought them up in discussions of sightings; I just found them remarkable and yet unremarked.