Students picking pumpkins on Pine Ridge reservation

KELOLAND.com Original

BATESLAND, S.D. (KELO) — Friday was a perfect day for picking the perfect pumpkin at the Prairie Pumpkin Patch near Martin, South Dakota. The pumpkin pickers today were a group of 4th and 5th graders from Batesland Elementary on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

The students travelled to the pumpkin patch on a field trip with their co-teachers Leevi Big Crow and Jodi Weisz.

“This whole thing kind of came about because myself and my co-teacher have the biggest class here at the school,” said Big Crow. “We keep the kids split all day for COVID-related reasons, so we only have 10 or 12 in our room at a time, but Halloween is a really big deal here at our school — we wanted a way to have our kids together.”

Due to COVID-19 precautions at Batesland, it became clear to Big Crow and Weisz that whatever was planned would need to be an outdoor event. The two settled on a pumpkin patch.

“I started making phone calls,” said Big Crow. “The pumpkin patch said that they would donate the admission. We contacted our principal right away; she scrambled and got us transportation to get us there.”

With travel and admission taken care of, all that was left was the cost to purchase pumpkins.

Initially, pumpkin funds weren’t part of the picture. “Since the pumpkin patch had donated the admission, we thought ‘well that’s fine, we don’t need pumpkins’ — that’s not a necessity,” said Big Crow.

However, shortly thereafter, a new plan started to form.

“I was talking to one of my other friends and she said ‘well I would pay for a couple of kids to get pumpkins’,” explained Big Crow.

After this interaction, Big Crow put the ask out on Facebook, looking to see if any other friends would be interested in pitching in to buy a few pumpkins. “Even if I don’t end up getting enough money, I’ll pay the difference so that everybody can get a pumpkin,” she said, explaining her thought process at the time.

Within minutes of her asking, all of the money needed had been raised. “I was not expecting that at all,” exclaimed Big Crow.

“Every kid got whatever pumpkin they wanted,” Big Crow beamed. “That was really cool too — we didn’t have to limit them to ‘oh you can only get little ones’ or anything, it was free range! You can get whatever you want!”

Big Crow explained that in the Batesland area, pumpkins aren’t necessarily the easiest things to find.

“Other than a couple of local grocery stores, we’re two hours away from the closest big hardware store or Walmart or big box stores; to get a pumpkin around here — one that you can carve — there isn’t a lot of options.”

Despite the Prairie Pumpkin Patch being only about 15 miles from Batesland, Big Crow says that only 2 of the 24 students had ever been there.

“So, this is a really cool thing to be able to take them. They got to experience all of the things. They got to do the corn maze — they all got a pumpkin that they’ll be able to carve.”

In telling the story of the trip to pumpkin patch, Big Crow also shared a special story about the students in her class.

She explained that when it was first confirmed that they could go to the pumpkin patch, a note was sent home to parents explaining that if the kids wanted to buy pumpkins, they would have to bring their own money.

The next day — before I even told the class, I was listening to some of the conversations that were happening. There were some kids talking about ‘well I’ll bring this much money and then whatever I have left I’ll give to you and then you can find a pumpkin to buy.’ They were kind of piling in and talking about how they were going to pile their money and split it between them so that everybody could get one.

Leevi Big Crow, Batesland Elementary Teacher

Big Crow recounted the moment she told them the big news.

“I said — hey guys I have some really great news about our field trip on Friday, and they said ‘yeah we know, we’re going to have all the money! We figured out how to split money so that everybody can get a pumpkin.’,” she said.

As soon as she told the class that none of them would have to bring money due to donations, they were immediately grateful. “They were like ‘we have to write thank you cards!’ and so they wrote some really amazing notes that I can’t wait to deliver,” said Big Crow.

As Big Crow mentioned, Halloween is a big deal at Batesland Elementary. She explained that the school also has a ‘Halloween costume closet’ so that students who came to school without costumes could pick one out.

“Nobody is left out. Everybody gets a costume. We have a lot of fun at our school,” she said. “We have hallway decorating contests, we have costume contests — Batesland South Dakota is tiny, but the town goes all out. We have hayrides at the powwow grounds; our little convenience store does a haunted forest for the kids — the whole community gets involved.”

Big Crow says she likes the idea of doing this pumpkin patch fundraiser each year going forward, and not necessarily just for her own students. “Maybe there’s another teacher in the area that would like to do this — maybe we can pledge some sponsorships for a different class as well — I would love to be part of that.”

The last thing Big Crow wanted to express was gratitude. “I would love to just give a really huge shoutout to people who donated. Just a very small thing made a really huge impact on a lot of children, and I feel blessed to have so many awesome people just in my small circle that made this happen for me and my students today.”

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