Meet Cathy Araos – former AFE Mosmiller intern turned biology co-teacher at Niles North High School in Skokie, Ill.
For three years, Cathy has been educating students at Niles North about plant and soil science, greenhouse management and floral design.
She is increasing awareness of the floriculture and horticulture industries, and doing so in fun ways. She hopes that her efforts will see an increase in participation from students.
“I want to get students interested and excited about horticulture, and I want to make an impact,” said Cathy.
“It’s very important that our students have educators or adults that support them in the projects they’re doing.”
Cathy performed a Mosmiller Internship in 2002 at Kennicott Brothers Company and describes her internship as a “life-changing experience.”
During the internship, she processed flowers and learned about the wholesale side of the industry. She also took initiative regarding plant identification by creating a binder about the different types of flowers.
One of her favorite experiences during her internship was working on a peony farm at Kennicott Kuts in Iroquois, Ill.
“I was cutting peonies and bundling them up to go to the wholesalers. I really liked that aspect – the growing of the flowers. I think [the internship] was a wonderful experience, getting me thinking and getting me started,” Cathy said.
She has stayed in touch with Red Kennicott throughout the years regarding occasional school projects, one of them being Project Smile. Kennicott donated 1,200 stems of pussy willows, which were turned into mini bouquets for this project.
Project Smile was initiated by one of her students to help make other students “smile” using flowers. Her students distributed the bouquets in the hallways during classes along with nice, handwritten messages on notecards.
“We’re trying to be purposeful on this project and impact students in a positive way with flowers,” she said.
Cathy also created The Green Thumbs Club at Niles North, and loves being able to expose students to horticulture and get them interested in creating floral arrangements and learning the anatomy of the different flowers.
The Green Thumbs Club was awarded $7,000 through a grant to revamp the greenhouse on the school’s campus and help connect community to Niles North.
Among the many activities, the students involved in the club have been gardening, landscaping, forcing bulbs, planting hanging baskets and held their first annual community plant sale on Mother’s Day weekend.
Cathy believes that allowing community members to speak to students at school and exposing them to different career opportunities in the industry will spark the students’ interests.
“Unless I or other people expose students, they will only be exposed to horticulture by walking into a grocery store to buy flowers for a birthday or holiday, and it’s so much more than that.”