For The Love Of The Earth

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Mother Earth’s helpers, from left: PTA President Dr. Jennifer Johnston-Jones, Juan Cabrillo Principal Dr. Pam Herkner and PR chair Jolynn Regan work beside the children and parents at the festive Earth Day Celebration on Saturday.

While Earth Day celebrations this year took on a decidedly political tone, with demonstrations for science scheduled across the United States, recognition for the eco-friendly holiday was decidedly more down to earth here in Malibu — literally.

Juan Cabrillo Elementary School Principal Dr. Pam Herkner sat cross-legged on a stretch of pavement Saturday morning with a paintbrush in her hand, decorating a cinderblock wall with delicate flower petals. She painted and chatted with one of her young students, a brilliant crown of flowers on her head, while music played from speakers filling the courtyard.

Juan Cabrillo was vibrant with life on Saturday as kids of all ages and their beaming parents set about beautifying the outdoor campus, with everything from weed pulling to mural painting going on all at once.

When asked about planning for the event, though, Herkner pointed across the courtyard to another woman decked out in a bright flower crown — PTA President Jennifer Johnston-Jones.

“It’s a collaborative effort, but Jennifer is the woman who made it happen,” Herkner said.

The vision behind Saturday’s Earth Day Celebration was stewardship, Johnston-Jones explained, and the program fits in well with the school’s focus on gratitude. 

“We are so happy and excited to teach the kids about stewardship,” Johnston-Jones said. “This is a physical manifestation of all the work we’ve been doing here.” That work, she described, includes community building and curriculum focused on gratitude and attention.

“For kids, [Earth Day] is really esoteric — when they think of Earth Day, they think, ‘Don’t litter,’” she said. “I want the kids to understand it’s taking care of what they have.”

Work at the school included coloring murals — notably the handprint-covered Friendship Tree near the entrance of the school — planting drought-tolerant gardens stocked with native plants and sprucing up the school grounds in time for spring.

“I call this place the kids’ second home, so if they have a part in it, they’re going to want to take care of it. So that’s part of the whole big picture,” Herkner explained.

Johnston-Jones’ second grader son Orion and his friend, kindergartener Neill, were deejaying the event and paused to point out their favorite part of their school’s new decor — a huge narwhal painted across a wall in a corner of the courtyard.

When asked why he thought it was important to take care of the earth, though, Orion got more serious.

“Because if you don’t, it will get really smoky and all the whales will die from polluting,” he said.

Kindergartener Lila Bradley, still dressed head to toe in her Malibu Little League uniform, agreed.

“Because if we don’t, then the earth will not be good and there won’t be any people on it,” she warned — and then, taking her friend’s hand, headed into the garden to continue weeding.