Valentine Heine - The Greenest Bear in Browns Valley
By Cara Mae Wooledge, MPH
What does Browns Valley Elementary Kindergartener Valentine Heine, 5, do when faced with a problem? She writes a letter.
Valentine received a Student of the Month award for respectfulness on November 4, 2019.
“Valentine is a magnificent child,” said Marian Moffett, Browns Valley Elementary Kindergarten teacher. “She is respectful, funny, curious, a deep thinker, sensitive, and she thinks out of the box. She is not afraid to share her ideas, yet she is very respectful of others’ opinions.”
Part of the Student of the Month award package included a free hamburger or cheeseburger from In-N-Out. Valentine is learning to read and when she sounded out the words, she said to her mom, Lilea Heine, “But I don’t eat them, so what do I do with this?”
They started talking about how Valentine is vegan and has food allergies, and this may be true for other students at Browns Valley Elementary. That’s when Valentine asked her mom for help to write a letter to her principal to advocate for all students that would not be able to use this coupon and offer solutions that everyone could enjoy.
“We are a letter writing family!” laughed Lilea. Valentine was inspired by her older brother, Paxton, 8, a Brown Valley Elementary third grader, who, the day before, had written a letter asking his favorite snack bar company to make their plastic packaging 100% recyclable
“Letters help them practice their writing and critical thinking skills,” explained Lilea. “Valentine was super proud of all the ‘sight’ words she’s learning in the classroom that she was able to use in her letter.”
One of her suggestions for the Student of the Month award was a scented pencil and another was a “coupon to go to local restaurants that have vegan choices, like Heritage Eats.” Heritage Eats is Valentine’s favorite restaurant. The Heine family enjoys eating there because the restaurant offers choices for a variety of diets and is supportive of the local community.
“The letter was very well written for a kindergarten student,” said Browns Valley Elementary Principal Frank Silva. “I responded in a letter back and a conversation that, ‘These certificates are free, and we give them to students because we want to reward them in some way.’”
Valentine was disappointed that her ideas couldn’t be implemented, but the story doesn’t stop there.
After Lilea posted Valentine’s letter on Instagram, Ali and Ben Koenig, founders and owners of Heritage Eats, joined the cause. “We saw her mother’s post on social media and reached out immediately to learn more about Valentine’s unique and heartfelt letter,” said the Koenigs. “We were so moved and impressed by her that we wanted to do something to help her mission.”
The Koenigs donated twelve $25 gift certificates to Heritage Eats for Valentine to take to her school.
When asked how helping Valentine aligns with the vision of Heritage Eats as a restaurant, the Koenigs said, “We believe in supporting youth and education-based causes and programs. Investing in local youth is critical, and we have felt a level of responsibility as business owners in Napa to ‘pay it forward’ to the next generation. We are family owned and every day presents its own challenges, but it’s moments like these that remind us why we set out to create a restaurant and connect with the community.”
On November 14, Valentine presented the $300 donation from Heritage Eats to Principal Silva with a letter saying, “I want to help Browns Valley!” and “Thank you for helping me learn my voice can make change.”
“We discussed that a $25 certificate was a larger reward than given in the past for Student of the Month,” said Mr. Silva. “It would not be equitable to other students receiving this award. Having these $25 student incentives is a good problem. So, I asked Valentine and her teacher to work with her class to come up with a new way to use these great student incentives that would motivate our students to be the best global citizens possible.”
Without hesitation, Valentine decided she would create her “own award” and thought of something she is passionate about. “I love to protect the Earth,” declared Valentine.
It was time to write another letter. Valentine wrote to Principal Silva, “A clean Earth is important for healthy living. We should honor people that help our home. I want an award for kids that help our Earth. We could name it The Green Bear Award.”
“The Earth is Valentine’s top priority,” said Lilea. “She’s motivated by Greta Thunberg. When we were brainstorming, we re-watched Greta’s speech to the United Nations and it helped her find the words for all the feelings that she has about the Earth.”
The Green Bear Award, in honor of the Browns Valley Elementary mascot, recognizes students who recycle, pick up trash or use ecofriendly products. Students who practice these ecofriendly actions will receive a Green Bear Hug Ticket that is placed in a bucket. Each month, a name will be pulled from the bucket to pick the Green Bear Award winner who will receive a $25 gift certificate from Heritage Eats.
“We had complete faith Valentine would conjure up a fantastic idea, yet The Green Bear Award has surpassed anything I imagined!” exclaimed Mrs. Moffett.
Mrs. Moffett created a simple Green Bear Hug Ticket and asked each child in her class to design a picture to go on it. “All 24 kiddos eagerly created some type of bear or bear paw with the Earth or something from nature,” said Mrs. Moffett. “Suddenly, Valentine has helped 23 other eager kinders to be a part of pioneering a way to help inspire students at Browns Valley Elementary to be more aware of keeping our school and environment healthy.”
Valentine and mom Lilea took the 24 Green Bear Hug Ticket creations and photocopied them onto green paper. Valentine cut them apart and Browns Valley Elementary is ready to launch the new, innovative Green Bear Award in January 2020.
“This process was learning experience for all of us,” said Mr. Silva. “It is the democratic process that is and should be practiced in our country. It also shows that a kindergarten student can be powerful if given a voice and opportunity to demonstrate their skills.”
Mrs. Moffett is grateful that her student’s story is being shared with the community, “By highlighting Valentine’s story, you are encouraging her to continue to know her ideas and voice make a difference. Perhaps another child will also get inspired by Valentine and the energy continues to create positive energy.”
How does Valentine feel? “If you believe in others, you should believe in yourself, too.”