Holy Family Early Learning Center Creates "Mr. Green" for 2020 National Carton 2 Garden Contest

Holy Family Early Learning Center (ELC) lead teacher, Ms. Chelsea Dean, was inspired to enter the 2020 Carton 2 Garden (C2G) Contest as a way to celebrate the ELC's 25th Anniversary, and as a means to connect her students with their community.  As part of the C2G application process, Mrs. Dean and her preschool students created a 4.5-minute video documenting the creation of 'Mr. Green'.  This inspiring and heart-warming video can be viewed at https://youtu.be/xAwTkzThJvo or by searching 'Carton 2 Garden 2020 Holy Family ELC' on YouTube.
Holy Family ELC's first challenge with entering the C2G contest was collecting the cartons. Due to the COVID pandemic, the school cafeteria has been closed this school year.  So they reached out to their community for help.  An HFCA parent volunteered to contact friends with children in other schools and asked them to save their milk cartons.  After 6 weeks, a total of 150 school milk cartons were collected.  Next, the students discussed all the different things they could do with their milk cartons.  Holy Family ELC teaches their students to 'reuse, repurpose and recycle', so they chose to build an eco-friendly, oversized caterpillar--Mr. Green--out of repurposed wood from their school campus. Their school maintenance manager, Mr. Benny Quintanilla, worked with them to design and build Mr. Green.  They knew they would need to fill their repurposed milk cartons with soil, so they reached out to a local company, Island Topsoil Services. They generously offered Holy Family ELC an entire truckload of their premium Hawaiian Blend for free!  The students used the soil for their Carton 2 Garden project--and had lots more leftover for their ELC School Garden.  They knew they would need to water their seedlings in their cartons, and they wanted to conserve their resources.  So they contacted the Board of Water Supply who generously gave them a huge water catchment system valued at over $200.  The students had so much fun stamping their little handprints with colorful paint on the system to make it all their own!  They learned that it is a sustainable practice to capture their rainwater, it saves money on the school's water bill, and it makes their plants happier and healthier to be watered with rainwater--vs. water from a hose.  They wanted to decorate their milk cartons so the preschoolers painted them all the colors of the rainbow.  They even had some of Holy Family Catholic Academy's 4th-8th grade art students help paint some cartons with cool designs.  Next, they needed seedlings to plant in their colorful cartons.  A quick trip to Lowe's led them to yet more help from their community.  Store management was happy to help support the ELC's Carton 2 Garden project and offered them all of their seedlings at a 50% discount.  A thoughtful HFCA parent offered the ELC some of her redworms and worm compost for their project.  That was a ton of fun for the students--playing with the worms and learning about how those little guys enrich the soil so their plants can grow strong and healthy. 
To align with their C2G project, Holy Family ELC dedicated the month of November to teaching their students about leading an active lifestyle and eating a balanced, healthy diet.  They created their Early Learning Center School Garden in 2017, and have enjoyed lettuce, cucumbers and papaya already this school year.  The preschoolers are in charge of their garden--from prepping the soil and planting, to watering with their watering cans and weeding, to harvesting and tasting the yummy fruits and veggies.  They love being outdoors gardening--healthy for their hearts and souls!  Although the C2G project was completed by preschool students, Mrs. Dean incorporated lots of STEM instruction.  Mr. Green integrated project-based learning that was engaging and challenging for the students.  Mrs. Dean posed many questions to the students throughout the process, and they used their problem-solving skills to solve those challenges.  The students learned about Science through worm composting, Technology through taking photos and videos, Engineering through the water catchment system, and Math through counting and spacing the cartons.  This C2G project inspired the students' curiosity and got their hands dirty.  From start to finish, Mrs. Dean created a culture of exploration, creativity and collaboration.
They were so grateful for all the support they received from their community, so they wanted to give back in some way with this C2G project.  The students learned that plants have been proven to be good for us--they're pleasant to look at, improve concentration and productivity, reduce stress and improve mood.  With this in mind, they decided to donate their cheerfully painted milk cartons filled with beautiful flowers to Pearl City Nursing Home.  Delivered right before Christmas, they were distributed to the elderly residents and healthcare workers along with handmade Christmas cards.  The entire process for this project was a whirlwind of activity, challenges and blessings. This was a big project for the little preschoolers!  The support they received was phenomenal, and Holy Family ELC was so inspired by their community partners' commitment to their students and their school.
Evergreen Packaging, a global leader in fiber-based packaging solutions, together with KidsGardening, a national nonprofit creating opportunities for kids to garden, hosted the 2020 Carton 2 Garden contest.  The contest promotes life skills such as creativity, leadership and teamwork by inviting students to work together to build or enhance their school gardens with repurposed milk and juice cartons.  Prizes valued at $23,000 are being awarded to 15 schools around the country for their carton garden creations.
The Carton 2 Garden student competitions started in 2015.  Participants have come from 46 different states.  Since its launch, nearly 1,000 project entries have been judged and more than 76,000 students have participated.  The result is that nearly 392,000 cartons have been repurposed.  "This year, like each of the five prior years, the students across the country demonstrated remarkable levels of creativity and thinking for their projects," said Katie Simmons, marketing director for Evergreen Packaging.  "They each embrace the ideas of eco-friendly packaging and practices, and the impact on their environment.  These children and young adults are role models for environmental stewardship in their communities, neighborhoods and schools."  Each entry is judged on specific criteria, including creativity, incorporation of sustainable materials and visual representation.  Classroom groups were required to repurpose at least 100 cartons of any size in their creation.  Em Shipman, executive director of KidsGardening, said, "The ingenuity and passion these teams put into their projects was astounding.  Participating in Carton 2 Garden allowed them to be a part of a meaningful community-focused project at a time when we're all feeling a bit off-balance and distant."
To commemorate its 25th Anniversary this school year, Holy Family Early Learning Center is welcoming monetary donations from interested donors to support their special projects and enrichment activities including playground improvements, Hawaiiana curriculum and their school garden.  Those interested in donating may contact ELC Director, Mr. Allen Akiona, at (808) 421-1265 or via email at aakiona@hfcahawaii.org.
Holy Family Catholic Academy and Early Learning Center is a co-ed, parochial, private school for students in preschool through 8th grade, located near the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.  This school year, Holy Family Catholic Academy (K-8) is offering two learning options:  an In-Person, On-Campus Program and a Virtual Learning Program.  Holy Family Catholic Academy offers both Before and After-School Care Programs starting at 6:00am and ending at 5:30pm each school day.  Holy Family Catholic Academy and Early Learning Center accepts applications and enrolls new students year-round, based on space availability.  K-8 tuition ranges from $8,045 - $8,945 per year.  Early Learning Center tuition ranges from $9,270 - $9,990 per year.  For information regarding Holy Family Early Learning Center, contact ELC Director Mr. Allen Akiona, Jr. at (808) 421-1265 or via email at aakiona@hfchawaii.org.  For more information on Holy Family Catholic Academy (K-8), visit their website at www.hfcahawaii.org or contact their main office at (808) 423-9611.