El Jardín Botánico de San Fernando

I think 1er Ciclo, which is made up of 1st and 2nd grades, is my favorite group in the whole school. What’s funny is that I like each grade for complete opposite reasons. 2nd grade is my favorite because they are so smart and such hard workers. But 1st grade is my favorite because they are constantly a hot mess, and with a little perspective, this can be endlessly entertaining.

So it was as I boarded the bus this morning to go with the aforementioned grades to the Botanical Gardens in San Fernando. With the 45 kids, Inma the English teacher, Ángel the 1st grade teacher, Antonia the 2nd grade teacher, Ángel the Head of Studies, and I are going along to provide some sort of supervision. Once everyone is on the bus, we spend another 5 to 10 minutes making sure everyone is sitting down with their seatbelts fastened. “Do we have to wear seatbelts?” I whisper to Inma. She shakes her head conspiratorially. As the bus pulls out of town, the Head of Studies gives a brief speech about how to behave at the Gardens. “This is a green space,” he tells the kids. “So we’re not going to eat our food in the gardens. Don’t unwrap any candies and throw the wrappers on the ground. And don’t pull or tear the plants.” “Or step on them!” pipes up a 1st grader. “Or step on them,” agrees Ángel. “Any questions?” “Maestro!!!!!” the 1st grade teacher mimics almost perfectly from the middle of the bus. “Yes, the tall student in the back,” the Head of Studies says. “Maestro, I didn’t bring a sandwich, what should I do?????” Ángel replies. “Well, someone will share with you, won’t we?” the Head of Studies asks. This is endlessly funny to the 1st graders.

It’s a 50 minute drive to the Botanical Gardens and even though it’s 9:30 in the morning, the mist still has not burned off some of the valleys. There’s a smoky quality to the mist too; you can clearly see where each cloud begins and ends. We drive in and out of the mist as Ángel attempts to teach his students: “It’s foggy!” Finally we arrive and get off the bus. Half of the 1st grade has lost their possessions, which is mind-boggling to me as we have all been contained on a bus, so there is really no other place for the miscellaneous bags, coats, sandwiches, and Pogs to be. We walk into the Gardens and Ángel goes to find our guide for the day. Inspired, I call the kids attention to me and ask, “Who can tell me what this is?”, grabbing a tree at random. “Palmera!!!!” about a dozen kids shout. “Right, it’s a palm tree, but I meant what are these?” I reply, shaking the tree a little. “Leaves!!!!!!” shouts Alejandro excitedly. There’s my star student! Before I could find a flower to ask them about, the guide shows up.

But wait! Before anything can happen, every single person has to go to the bathroom. I man the girls bathroom while Ángel’s 1st graders take their turn. I’m not sure what they are doing in there, but it’s taking forever. Finally I start knocking on the doors and herding students to the sinks. “Let’s all wash our hands!” I say. Nerea gives me a funny look. ‘Why, are we going to eat?” I pause, confused, then switch into Spanish. “Didn’t you just go to the bathroom? You have to wash your hands after you go to the bathroom.” It slowly dawns on me that I have been accepting hugs for the past 5 months from kids who only wash their hands when they themselves are going to come in contact with their fingers. Hurriedly I make every girl in that bathroom wash their hands, and after a little too much fun with the hand dryer, we are mostly all back with the guide. “Come on boys,” I seem to say a million times, “come back to the picnic tables.” Several kids run past me, but Cristian stops long enough to say, “Selma is still out there, interviewing the plants.” I sneak a peek around the corner and there’s Selma with a little notebook, jotting things down in front of a bush. It really does look like she’s interviewing the plants. I wonder what they would say? Anyway, I call her back to the rest of the group and ask her to take notes on the plants a little closer to us.

This guy is pretty good. He knows how to work with kids, and he keeps the route simple. “Who dressed in a plant today?” he asks the crowd, to much amusement. “I did, I did!” Jorge pipes up. “I got dressed in a Venus fly-trap!” “Oh my, that doesn’t itch?” the guide asks, before finding a kid wearing a cotton undershirt and trying to convince the crowd that cotton is a plant. Nobody seems to buy it. He then takes us to a little garden where they are growing sunflowers and beans and talks a little bit about using plants for food. “Look, Tee-chair!!!!!” Cristian runs up to me excitedly, proffering his hand, “A bug!!!” “Oh, how nice,” I respond, “but we should be listening to our guide. Here, give me that.” I attempt to find a home for a pillbug as the guide explains how the leaves from the quejigo andaluz were burned to create charcoal. We then move on to discuss rosemary and laurel, but we also pass a fountain with little fish. Every single kid wants to spend multiple minutes staring into the fountain in hopes of seeing a fish. Sensing a change in topic, the guide asks, “Who wants to see some animals?” We spend several minutes looking for frogs.

Thus ends our tour. We head back to the picnic benches where we started our journey to have what I affectionately call “second breakfast”. I’ve brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which I share with Inma and Ángel, the Head of Studies, and they go wild over it. “It really tastes like peanuts!” Ángel exclaims. Soon after, the 5 teachers decide to take it in turns to go find some coffee, so Inma, Ángel, and I head out of the Garden and along the streets of San Fernando in search of a bar. “Oh look, there’s the elderly community center, the old people have to have coffee somewhere, right?” Ángel remarks. We make for the center, but when we start to go in, I say, “Wait, really? We’re gonna drink coffee with the old people?” Indeed we were. There’s a little cafeteria right inside, and we order coffee and juice. The place definitely has that retirement home feeling, but we pretend like we’re cool and enjoy our drinks.

When we get back to the Garden to switch off with Ángel and Antonia, the kids are in the middle of making perfume out of rubbing alcohol and rosemary. “Tee-chair, smell!” several kids ask me at the same time. I gingerly sniff and get a whole nose-full of alcohol fumes. The 1st grade teacher was not so cautious; he took a big whiff and turned away, eyes streaming. “You awake now?” I ask, smiling. The kids put in the rosemary, and some pretend to drink their little flasks, giving me heart palpitations. That’s all we need, bringing home a kid poisoned or drunk. They quickly move on to the next activity, which is discussing plants that are used in food. For this they need to prepare 4 little plastic bags in which to put cloves, thyme, oregano, and anise. The 1st graders struggle mightily with the tape, but the 2nd graders are more adept. I supervise a table of second graders, tearing off pieces of tape with my teeth while Iván and Juan somehow manage to pour the seeds out of their little baggies roughly 12 times in succession.


After a lot of fumbling around with who is the partner of who, since everyone has changed partners at least twice during the day, we all make it on the bus again. We try to make the kids sit in the same seats to make counting easier. Meanwhile we teachers are carrying around the detritus that the kids have once again left behind. After deciding that no one was going to claim the unopened water bottle, the Head of Studies offers it to each of us in turn. “Ángel, do you want some water?” he calls out. Ángel, who is busy trying to make a student go back to his original seat, responds, “No, I want to kill someone.” The Head of Studies points to Inma, who quickly points to me. “Good idea!” says the Head of Studies. “‘I don’t know what happened to the foreign girl, we took her on a school trip and no one saw her again!'” Har-dee-har-har.


The Head of Studies attempts to convince the kids that the 50 minute bus ride back to Alcalá would be a perfect time for a nap, but no one is interested. I put in my headphones to drown out the yelling and giggling. At one point, Inma turns around to address the 2nd graders in the back of the bus, who are chanting something. Interested, I take out my headphones to listen. Of course I can’t hear anything, but Inma suddenly taps me and says, “Sarah, they’re talking to you!” I turn around and look but I still can’t make out anything. “You have to say, ‘Who me?'” Inma clarifies. “Who me?” I shout to the back. “Yes, you!” respond 20 2nd graders. “Couldn’t be!” I called back. After a slight pause of confusion, the kids continue chanting. (Turns out that I was supposed to respond, “It wasn’t me!”) “Good job!” Inma said, at which point I had to confess that I hadn’t heard a thing they were saying. I taught her “Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?” and asked her if the rhyme was the same in Spanish. “Well, I don’t know, there are so many versions. Hang on,” she answered. After a brief discussion with the 1st graders sitting directly behind us, she turns back around and says, “In Spanish we say, ‘Who took a crap in the . . .’ well, it’s different every time where, and then you say ‘Who me?’ and then ‘It wasn’t me!'”. “Excuse me?????” I managed to choke out between snorts of laughter. “Who took a CRAP??? Is that really what the rhyme is????”


The valleys look much happier without all that mist. “Hey Sarah,” Inma turns to ask me, “Are you going to renew for next year?” “No, I’m not,” I admit. “I knew from the beginning that I was going to be here only one year. The strange thing is, the more I’m here, the more I want to stay here.” It’s so interesting how this happens, but even though I am looking forward to moving back to the US in June, it is going to be difficult to leave. I’ll even miss my students. It’s funny because the typical response is, “Yeah, I thought I wanted to have kids . . . until I worked with them.” but I feel just the opposite. Before working at an elementary school, I thought, “Yeah, I’ll probably have kids one day, but they sound like a lot of work and bodily fluids . . . ” Now I feel like having kids could actually be pretty fun.


Except for the parts like when we get ready to get off the bus. “Whose is this?” the 1st grade teacher asks no one in particular. “Must be Sergio’s . . . what a surprise, Sergio leaving everything he owns behind.” Like I said, perspective.


One Response to El Jardín Botánico de San Fernando

  1. Ryan says:

    What is it with these people and poop? First the “crapper” in the nativity, now this….

    If I didn’t know otherwise I’d swear Spaniards had an obsession with the scatological. ;-)

    Sounds like a fun day, though.

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