Last week Wednesday, I spent the afternoon with the staff of the school where Dirt Girls originated. As soon as I walked through the entrance, I made eye contact with three former Dirt Girls participants: E., L., & P., who were helping with the after-school popcorn fundraiser (pictured above with two of their classmates who also joined my after school garden clubs).
I watched as their faces slowly registered my presence–it’s been nearly a year since I’ve seen any of them. Then, the most joyful expressions emerged from their beautiful faces.
Nothing can make your day more joyful than this kind of recognition from children you love.
When I talk about Dirt Girls to people for the first time, they notice the shift in my energy and excitement. There’s a level of conviction that feels right in my body: I want every child to have a safe place to belong, explore, and experience joy. For me, gardening and science has provided this sense of where I “fit” in the world.
As I look out at my backyard, crowded with weeds that have (over)grown in the last nine months, I am reminded of the school gardens that have been revived over the past year after neglect during the pandemic. I’m also reminded of the possibility that spring’s return instills. Buds breaking, trees leafing, seeds germinating…these are the signs of the sun’s eternal energy that (re)fuels our own physical and metaphorical growth. Much like the spring season awakens plants from dormancy, new beginnings and fresh starts rekindle the commitments we hold most dear.
For me, Dirt Girls a commitment I want to rekindle. Since last summer, I’ve been trying to envision what a Return of the Dirt Girls would look like. I’m still not sure, but I’ve dedicated some of my energy to bringing it into being. Almost daily, I see reminders of how critical it is to empower girls to use their voices to stand up for what is right for themselves and others. One thing that feels very right in this moment is learning with kids outside helping them to see themselves as part of nature.
As I greeted the students last Wednesday, they told me all about the extracurricular activities they’re involved in (soccer, swimming, dance, et.). And yet, one of the very next things out of E’s mouth was, “I wish we could have Dirt Girls again.” I heard the same refrain last time I saw her, at a community event in June of 2022 (pictured at left, with her mom). Prior to that it was at an in-person meet up at Fuller Park in May of 2021.
What could possibly be so powerful that over three years her memory of it persists?
That’s what I need to find out. For the next few months, I’m going on a listening tour. The first step I plan to take in the quest to revive the Dirt Girls program is to hear the stories of past participants. Equipped with tools I learned in “PhD school,” I’ll put on my researcher hat and attempt to capture in the voices that share what made Dirt Girls an inviting way to spend an hour a week.
Next time I see, E. and she asks when we can have Dirt Girls again, I’ll have a more definitive answer.