Feelings grow at St. Catherine of Siena

The new multi-colored garden that welcomes visitors to St. Catherine of Siena School is more than something pretty to look at. Its vibrant hues express a color-coded rainbow of emotions, courtesy of the youngsters who planted it.

Last month, every student in the Metairie school’s pre-K3 through third-grade classes was asked to bring in different colored flowers representing seven different feelings:

Prekindergartners brought in pink and yellow flowers to represent “happy.”

Kindergartners brought in blue and purple flowers to illustrate “sad.”

Red flowers were donated by first graders to symbolize “angry.”

Second grade was responsible for the color white, representing “lonely.”

Third graders were free to bring in the flower color of their choice for a mixed section of the garden that signifies “silly.”

“We had this outdoor area that was sort of not being used, and every time I’d walk by I’d say this would be a great space to do something,” said school counselor Laura Hernandez, who came up with the idea of planting a “Feelings Garden” as a cross-curricular way to broach the various emotions with her students in prekindergarten through third grades.

“We’re always working on feelings,” Hernandez said. “Research has shown that kids have to be able to identify their own feelings before they can develop compassion and identify other people’s feelings – which leads to being a better friend. A garden is a great way to bring this to life,” she said.

The semi-circular garden sits in a prime location, just inside St. Catherine’s main entrance gates on Codifer Boulevard. Students and faculty also pass by it during their frequent walks between the two main school buildings.

Hernandez oversaw the garden’s installation with middle school counselor Caroline Fleiner, helping five or six children at a time plant their flowers in beds that Hernandez, an avid gardener, prepared in advance. The project took about a week to complete.

Hernandez said the garden project also was inspired by a classroom guidance session on friendship in which she read the Dr. Seuss story “My Many Colored Days” with students.

“We started overlapping the whole concept of how you have to take care of flowers. They need to be in the right environment, and they can’t have weeds growing around them or they lose their beauty,” Hernandez said. “We talked about how this idea could be applied to themselves – you need to take care of yourself; you need to talk to someone if you’re sad or upset or if someone’s being mean to you. If you’re around people who are treating you ugly, those are the ‘weeds,’ and you need to tell them you want to be treated nicely.”

First grader Zoe Smith brought in a large flat of red flowers to share with her classmates. “It’s the angry section, but it’s very pretty,” Zoe said.

Katie Glas, a third grader, said she liked “seeing all the colors once it was done,” and was happy her class had been asked to bring in a mixture of colors to represent “silly.”

“When you’re silly you have different feelings sometimes,” Katie said.

Third grader Joel Terry, a first-time gardener, said planting the flowers made him “nervous at first, and then I felt excited because I learned a new thing.” He donated blue and yellow flowers to the effort.

“I like all the categories, all the feelings,” Joel said. “The garden makes me smile.”

Recently, middle schoolers painted wooden signs to place in each section of the garden, so visitors will understand the significance of each colored section.

“We had so many parents signing in because their children wanted to show them where their flower was in the garden,” Hernandez said. “It was neat for them to get to feel like they had a part in making the campus beautiful,” she said, adding that students will sign up to water the garden in the spring and refresh the garden as the blooms come and go.

St. Catherine’s Co-op Club funded the purchase of soil, fertilizer, work gloves and three benches.

“Everybody got on board,” Hernandez said. “It was something that I just saw in my head as being a neat idea. To see it come to life was just great!”