Category Archives: Shelburne Falls

Karen Eldred and the life of the garden in education


Karen Eldred
RETIRED TEACHER Karen Eldred keeps students, families connected to the Earth.

THE TIMING worked out well on a clear day in late September. The fifth grade had planted garlic. Plans were set for braiding it for sale for next year’s class trip to Nature’s Classroom.

It’s a community effort. Shelburne Falls Farm and Garden had donated that garlic, and retired teacher Karen Eldred worked with a preschool teacher to cut sunflower heads — her students were about to line them up by size.

Timing is the key for success at the school gardens, where Eldred and a passel of school and community volunteers tend to herbs, vegetables, and flowers. There’s a bounty of education here as well as food for the table. Eldred spent a little time with the Flow recently to explain what the school’s eight gardens really grow…

Flow: We always see kids out here. It looks lovely.

Karen: Thank you, it is lovely. Jacqui Goodman’s [sixth-grade] class just came out and we cut up the sunflower stalks and added them to the compost bins; another preschool teacher came out and we decided what to do with the scarlet runner beans that we planted last year on big poles that a storm knocked over. We opened some up and they were just beautiful. And then we went through what she could do with them, whether it was eat them or save them for next year for crafts.

Flow: Do you plan activities class by class, or…

Karen: It works perfect! The timing was really good today. A couple of clases were expecting me, and others I ran into and it just worked. Ms. Funk and I talked about kale — her class is going to harvest kale over the next two weeks and the kitchen is going to make kale chips.

Flow: How is all this organized? Is this all volunteer effort?

Karen: All these beds are put in by the Garden Committee. We still need parents’ support. I’m here as a liaison, working with families and school and the gardens and the teachers.

I’ll do a little work with the kids in the classroom on what’s going to happen — this is instruction time — and with others it’s just random.
The preschool kids happened to just come out and they had their wagon with them. It was just coincidental. And then we took 15 to 20 minutes and did some instruction with them and cut some sunflowers.

Now I’m doing cleanup, which is hard to teach kids to do. This is fall cleanup and I’m just waiting for Becky’s [Becky Ecklund’s fifth-grade] class.

Flow: You said you’re looking for more help. What can community members do to help?

Karen: We’re looking for people to get involved. There are always things that can be donated. Right now we’re looking for bales of hay to mulch the garlic with. But we need a parent representative, which is what Emily Crehan was doing, and had been doing for a year. That would involve making flyers and organizing a date for a work crew. We need someone who can help with fundraising and grant writing – that’s a critical need right now.

We also need supplies and stipends. Red Gate Farm sends people down here and they get a stipend, I get a stipend, and we want to add Emily’s position as a stipend. It’s not a salary; it’s not anywhere near the hours that we work but it recognizes that this can’t be a purely voluntary thing if it’s going to work.

Flow: What are you hoping kids take from all this?

Karen: I want children to understand where their food comes from because children really don’t. I want children to get outside. They don’t get outside anywhere near as much as they should. There’s science involved; there’s math involved. Being able to make connections to the curriculum. Really connecting back to what used to be part of their lives and really isn’t anymore. Children really don’t know where their food comes from; children really aren’t getting outside and getting dirty. They don’t realize what compost is.

Flow: I’m surprised to hear that. I’d think, living around here, more kids would have a sense of the earth.

Karen: There’s a certain amount but it’s not like it used to be, where it was part of life.  Now it’s if a family chooses to garden and it’s kind of a hobby. And with some families, yeah, they do still grow their own potatoes and can their own food but there’s a lot who don’t. Everybody used to have a kitchen garden and that’s not true anymore.

Flow: Why is it important for kids, for families, to have this sense?

Karen: Well, it’s educational. It’s lifelong. It’s a lifelong connection to living. If you don’t grow your food, to at least realize when you walk into that supermarket where that potato came from, what the parts of a plant are, that the carrot is actually the root, that you’re actually eating the root… When you’re eating corn you’re eating seeds.

Flow: That’s a great vocabulary to have at your disposal too, to know how you’re supporting yourself with the planted life.

Karen: There’s this whole cycle that continues. We can either help it continue or we can asphalt it over. [Laughs]

Flow: So anyone can help in the gardens here? It doesn’t have to be a school parent or a teacher?

Karen: I’d love some community members. A master gardener would be really cool. I’m self-taught. My grandparents gardened, my mom gardened, I garden. In another lifetime I canned my own food. I worked with adolescents in residential care when I worked as a special-ed teacher and we used to have gardens and chickens and exhibit at the fair. [Those were] hard-core city kids who did really bad things and they’re finding a different part of themselves. Gardens are for everybody. These gardens are for everybody.


Nimble Artist

MAYA SARICH enjoys a new perspective on the arts.

MAYA SARICH was one of the kids to take Nimble Arts up on its offer of circus-skill workshops at BSE March 22.

She later told the Flow she particularly enjoyed hanging upside down in her aerial silks, which are made of strong, soft fabric.

Juggling followed. Kids who participated learned to manipulate objects, from scarves (easy on little hands) to balls and more challenging things.


Friendship forward!

CARLI JENSEN has excellent friends.

Friends and teachers who reached out to CARLI JENSEN with well-wishes from home: She got your gift in the mail! Carli, who recently moved to Burbank, Calif., said she loved getting your messages.

“I’m very sad I had to leave BSE. It’s hot in California and freezing in Massachusetts,” she told the Flow April 14.

It sure looks sunny there. That’s great! The weather’s been much improved here, too.

Amar Abbatiello: ‘Singing and dancing is always good for any kid…’

Amar Abbatiello is the Cat in the Hat and Laura Purington is Gertrude McFuzz in Mohawk Trail Regional High School’s “Seussical the Musical.”

MOHAWK—Junior Amar Abbatiello is one hard-working cat. Coming off his amazing performance as the Scarecrow in Mohawk’s 2014 “Wizard of Oz,” he was a natural under the hat in this month’s “Seussical,” which sold out its three consecutive-days’ performances.
He also maintains very good grades, competes in track and field, and works at South Face Farm Sugarhouse in Ashfield.

Performing wasn’t always on his mind. He wasn’t an artsy kid, he said. When he was in elementary school, at Sanderson Academy, he was a tinkerer.

“I liked building things with wood. I did that at home; I didn’t do much in school,” he said.

Even music seems to have been thrust upon him: “In seventh grade band I took saxophone because my brother had, and my mom was like, “I’m not wasting money on this saxophone; you’re going to learn saxophone.’ ” So he did.

Next came chorus. “I got into eighth grade and they were like, ‘You can take chorus or you can take gym.’ I was like, ‘Sign me up, I’ll sing my heart out!’ And now I’m the Cat in the Hat.”

Asked a couple of hours before his March 7 performance what it’s like working with so many kids from all over the school district, Amar immediately said he enjoys it.

“It’s a very good learning experience for both groups. All the elementary school kids get to see how all us slightly more mature kids kind of act about theatre. They can kind of get an experience of theatre and see that singing and dancing — that’s always good for any kid, whether he wants to go into dancing or not.”

He added: “I think it’s just a healthy experience for kids of wider age groups to communicate with each other, because it creates more understanding between both of them and leaves less of a gap between social groups. So you can communicate as a whole better later on.”

RELATED: All-School ‘Seussical’ a District Who’s Who.

All-school ‘Seussical’ a District Who’s Who

Adam Hallenbeck as a beleaguered, true-blue Horton the Elephant. He’s got his hands full with bird girls, the Jungle of Nool citizens, cadets, and Circus McGurkus, and of course the spirited Wickersham Brothers.
Adam Hallenbeck as a beleaguered, true-blue Horton the Elephant. He’s got his hands full with bird girls, the Jungle of Nool citizens, cadets, and Circus McGurkus, and of course the spirited Wickersham Brothers.

MOHAWK—Amar Abbatiello is the Cat in the Hat and Laura Purington is Gertrude McFuzz in Mohawk Trail Regional High School’s “Seussical the Musical,” the dazzling show by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty based on several of the books of Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss.

More than 85 students from grades 5 through 12 joined in the fun on stage March 6-8, and members of the Mohawk Concert Band performed alongside professional musicians.

Even the set was an all-school production, with digital, Seuss-like dreamscapes projected behind the players. Costuming, lighting, sound, choreography, and makeup and hair shone as stars in their own right.

Concessions were staffed by the Mohawk Music Association and parents. David Fried’s photographs of dress rehearsals are for sale as an MMA fundraiser.

Each performance sold out. This was a a smash hit.

Director was Shelley Roberts. Assistant director was Eva Otten. Music director was Scott Halligan.

And the elementary school liaison, who shuttled hither and yon and made Whoville happen with grace and cheer? That was Gina Glover.

Gina Glover Seussical
Elementary School Liaison Gina Glover corrals dozens of kids from across the district March 6 during the all-school production of ‘Seussical.’

“It gets them excited.
‘This is what I can do…’ ”

WE CAUGHT UP with middle school music teacher Gina Glover on opening night of “Seussical,” just after her charges — the Whos of Whoville (upper grades from the district’s elementary schools) had finished their first number to tremendous applause and swirled into the school cafeteria.

Glover — elementary school liaison for the Mohawk Music Association — managed the sea of energetic performers with a cheerful, crackling efficiency.

The next day we asked Glover to tell us what she and the kids are tackling next and what’s valuable to the community in seeing greater collaboration in the arts among the elementary schools and Mohawk…

GLOVER: We try to make a lot of connections with all of our schools in the district. April 30 we have our annual Kids in Concert event. This is a culmination of the year’s work — all our kids’ work. I collaborate with Joan Fitzgerald, who is another elementary music teacher, and Sandy Carter. We each teach general music, chorus, and elementary band in our own schools. We combine chorus students and band students in grades 4-6, and have two rehearsals and a concert. We pull it all together with 125-plus band students on stage and 80 to 100 chorus students.

We also have our Heath string program, led by David Haskell. They perform as well. In the elementary school world, that concert is the next big thing coming up. It’s huge.

FLOW: What’s the benefit to these younger kids in working on these larger, all-school productions?

GLOVER: It’s a huge benefit. They get an immediate connection to the school. The majority of them will be coming to this school. The connection that these guys have with me being the middle school music teacher, they know me coming in. I’m a known quantity. It’s welcoming. It helps with the transition.

And it helps with retention, definitely. I have about 40 kids in my chorus between seventh and eighth grade, and about 30 in the band. There were some years in my band I only had, like, 15 kids, and even 20-25 kids in the chorus. This works.

And it gets them excited. They say, “This is what I can do when I get to Mohawk…” In [2014’s] “The Wizard of Oz” they were in two scenes. They get to see, “Well, there are seventh-graders on stage, so when I’m in seventh grade I can have maybe a larger role, and then when I get to high school I can have this really big role.” They can see this natural progression.

FLOW: And the benefit to the older students?

GLOVER: I think the older kids take the younger kids under their wing. I think they like to be an inspiration for them as well.

FLOW: Is this a formal plan? Are we going to have a K-12 music department?

GLOVER: That’s our goal: to have it streamlined K-12, and I think we have a fabulous group of teachers who really want to work together to see this come to fruition. And Mr. [Scott] Halligan at the high school is doing his thing — we’re banding together and seeing what we can do to help each other out and make the department even stronger than it’s become.

Another outreach we do, Scott Halligan and I, at the end of the year we team up and take both of our ensembles and tour the elementary schools and have performances. It’s a great way for the kids to see what we do and to see what their next step is as musicians.

For more information, visit

RELATED: Amar Abbatiello: ‘Singing and dancing is always good for any kid’

His business is coming up sunny-side

Joy logoFIFTH-GRADER Griffin Kearney has 19 chickens and a rooster. They’re Rhode Island Reds and Ameraucanas. He says the chickens lay blueish-greenish eggs in addition to white eggs, and they’re all delicious.

And he’s selling them from his home in Shelburne Falls, $3 per dozen.

Griffin and the first egg produced for his business.
Griffin and the first egg produced for his business.

“I wanted to try this as a business. It’s really cool to have fresh eggs every morning. I just thought I’d try it out and see where it goes,” he said.

Griffin said his business started this past summer when he checked out his neighbor’s chickens and he thought it would be something he could get into. He sells all the eggs he raises that his family doesn’t eat.

“It’s going pretty good. Business has been a little slow, but I have hopes it’ll pick up soon,” he said.

He also said he likes to crush the bad eggs.

The chickens are hard at work. Griffin said he hatched seven chicks from an incubator, and they were the mixed kind. So they will be egg layers. Griffin is getting more chickens in the spring.

He’s not stopping here, either. Griffin said he might be getting bees in the spring as well, so he can sell honey.