Apple trees provide teaching moments at St. George School

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Apple trees provide teaching moments at St. George School

Students at St. George School in Tinley Park pick apples in the parish orchard on Sept. 17, 2021. Father Ken Fleck, senior pastor at the parish, has been growing vegetables and fruit for the local food pantry for years and involves the students at the school in planting and harvesting. The apples will be used to make apple pies for the food pantry. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
(Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

Dozens of children swarmed the apple trees that grow along the western border of the St. George School grounds in Tinley Park Sept. 17, plucking the ripe apples and dropping them in boxes.

“Is this one good?” a student asked, holding up an apple to a teacher.

Second grade teacher Joanne O’Brien looked at the small discoloration.

“I think that one’s fine,” she said.

As the second, third and fourth graders stripped the trees of fruit — at least, from the branches they could reach — they yelled about seeing bees (“That bee went right inside a rotten apple!”). Teachers helped sort the good apples from the bad, explaining that one or two marks did not mean the whole fruit should be discarded.

For students at St. George, this is an annual ritual: harvesting the apples from the trees planted by the pastor emeritus, Father Ken Fleck.

Fleck, who served as pastor for 17 years before retiring in 2020, developed an extensive garden with all kinds of vegetables as well as pumpkins that are used each year in a “guess the weight” contest to raise money.

Fleck has helped the students learn everything from science lessons about growing things to cooking to religion, with his emphasis on helping others, with the gardens, according third and fourth grade teacher Sophie Davis.

This year, he wasn’t there for the harvesting because he was traveling, but he made sure Principal Charlotte Pratl scheduled classes to do the job when the apples were ready.

The apples have been a fall highlight at the school, with Fleck planting a tree for each of the first 12 graduating classes when he was pastor of the parish. Since then, students have learned to prune and care for the trees and to harvest the apples and each year, one or two classes join him to make apple pies.

At least one pie, and the rest of the apples, go to the Tinley Park Food Pantry.

“The kids all know that we are doing this to help people who don’t have enough food to eat,” O’Brien said.

“We have to do this to put the apples in the food pantry,” third grader Charles Beaudry explained.

His classmate, Jackson Lewis, said he likes picking apples and plans to go again with his family.

“Gala and honeycrisp are the best,” he said.

Some of the children have gone apple-picking with their families, or done it on field trips, they said, but most had not tasted the difference between apples freshly picked off trees and those shipped to grocery stores.

Kendall Whitfield and Ginny Dolan, both fourth graders, were hoping they would get to help make the pie with Fleck this year, a privilege that rotates among the classes.

“I’m guessing we’re going to do something with them,” Ginny said.


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