Center School Sunflower Project

Don Cuddy has been growing sunflowers for over two decades. Originally inspired by his daughter’s bringing home a seedling when Center School closed for the summer, Cuddy has enjoyed watching the tiny stems become flowering giants in his yard.

             The war in the Ukraine solidified Cuddy’s concept that by growing sunflowers, he could show visual solidarity with the people of the Ukraine. And so it grew (no pun intended). Soon he was thinking that a sunflower seedling project might benefit not only the Mattapoisett Land Trust’s community engagement strategies but also help to educate local grade school kids by giving them first-hand, from the ground up, experience.

            Cuddy suggested that the MLT’s education committee might somehow use the sunflower to further science-based education programming. But it was the height of COVID-19, when globally based education efforts were stymied.

            At Old Hammondtown School, where Center School children were temporarily relocated, an outdoor tent allowed some programing to move forward. Three years later, the program has expanded to include having the students plant the seeds themselves and when ready, planting the seedlings outdoors at the highly visible site, Dunseith Park at the corner of Route 6 and North Street.

            “They can see their own flower growing as they pass by in the family car,” Cuddy said, noting this would give the children a deeper sense of ownership.

            One of the main points the program strives to impart is the codependency of plants and animals. A statement made by the MLT education committee notes, “Animals need food and light, water, minerals and favorable temperatures – and animals or other mechanisms to disperse the seeds.” Cuddy can attest to that last point. “The rabbits got the seedlings last year.” He said he grows extra plants for this scientific reality.

            At first, Cuddy grew the seedlings for the children to plant. This year, expanding on the theme, the MLT in collaboration with Center School first-grade teachers Courtney Aarsheim, Jennifer Aguiar and Marissa Hughes worked with the students growing their very own seedlings in their classroom in a program known as The Life Cycle of the Sunflower (Part of the Massachusetts curriculum Framework for Science and Technology). The MLT education committee includes, along with Mary Cabral, Ellen Flynn as chairman, Wendy Copps, Marcia Waldron, Cindy Turse, Joann Porter and Barbara Tully.

By Marilou Newell

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