HES teacher planting a garden of learning

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Fifth-grade teacher Sherry Fields will leave a legacy when she retires some day-a butterfly garden called “Butterfly Fields.”

The play on words is subtle. But Field’s passion behind starting a garden at Hillsboro Elementary School this fall is loud and clear.

“I think it’s a life skill for the kids-planting things and helping the environment,” Fields said.

“To me, you can read about this in a book, but it’s totally different when you can actually get your hands in there and get dirty. It’s more rewarding, and you get more excited about it.”

Sitting in her classroom with a wall of windows facing east, Fields is surrounded by 14 homeroom children, about a dozen small plants, two potted trees and two potted palms.

“It’s the best room in the district,” Fields said.

“The room is ideal for all these plants. If I had a room without windows, I’d be a basket case.”

The idea for a butterfly garden took root at the end of the school year in 2000. On the last day of the school year, Fields received a phone call from Wal-Mart and learned that she was chosen teacher of the year.

“I was speechless,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. And with that award, I got $500.”

At her awards presentation, Fields thought about using the money to put in a garden on the northeast corner of the elementary building.

As fifth-grade science teacher, she has encouraged her students to enter the National Arbor Day Foundation tree-poster contest. One of her students has won at the district level, and two have won the state poster contest.

“So when we do this, we study about trees and find out how important trees are and why we need trees in our school yard,” Fields said.

“One tree, if it’s positioned in the right place, can cut your utility bills by 25 percent.”

An avid gardner, Fields said she’s always been interested in plants.

“If I wouldn’t have gone into teaching, I probably would have gone into horticulture, in a nursery or something like that. It’s a very big interest of mine.”

So with the seed of an idea planted, the concept of a butterfly garden began to grow.

“And I kept looking out there and thinking, ‘We need to do something,'” she said.

“We’re always complaining about no money, no money. Well, maybe we can help with the fuel bill if nothing else, by getting a few trees closer to the building and giving it a little shade.”

At the time of the awards ceremony, the presenter suggested Fields might want to apply for a Wal-Mart grant for environmental projects.

“So I thought, ‘Maybe I could apply for that and get some more money this year for the butterfly garden-to help pay for the plants,'” Fields said.

“Because I think half the $500 I have will go just to get something to edge the pathways.”

The area under Field’s green thumb is about 50 square feet of grass and weeds.

Sharon Boese, with the Garden Center in Hillsboro, donated the landscape plans for the garden.

A “T”-shaped pathway, with the top of the “T” running parallel to the building and the bottom pointing north, will provide a sidewalk inside Butterfly Fields.

“We’re going to put two trees on the east of the garden walkway, and on the west of that walkway, we’ll put two more trees,” Fields said.

“Then we’re going to be getting shrubs and different types of things that attract butterflys-like a butterfly bush and spirea-and then pampas grass to give it a border.”

The four trees have been donated by the Lindsborg Parks and Recreation department.

“When we went on a recycling trip, we went there and learned that they give trees to any public place-like a school or park-for free,” Fields said.

A partnership has been established between the National Tree Trust, the Kansas Forest Service and the City of Lindsborg to provide trees for non-profit groups throughout the state. The name of the program is “Share the Shade.”

The school has been promised two Burr oaks and two Redbud trees, Fields said. The Burr oaks should be about 6 feet tall, and the Redbuds should be smaller because they are ornamental trees.

“Burr oaks are excellent trees for Kansas because they’re native,” Fields said. “And at maturity, which is 100 years, they can grow to 100 feet tall.”

The planting project got underway Oct. 28 during Red Ribbon Week at HES.

Mike Moran, HES counselor, trenched along the proposed walkway, and children in all grades had the opportunity to plant about 275 multi-color tulip bulbs.

Also included in the design plan are benches and a tepee trellis for pole beans.

Pat Call, HES principal, had a suggestion about procuring the benches, Fields said.

He suggested she contact the high school to see if any classes would be willing to donate their time to build the benches if the elementary school would provide the materials.

The other garden attraction, the tepee, was Boese’s idea, Fields said.

Pole beans would be planted around a tepee-shaped trellis.

“During the summer, these beans will climb up, and then the kids could climb inside and read,” Fields said.

As part of a science curriculum through the year, children in Fields’ classes could grow annuals, such as marigolds and impatiens, she said.

“And then we’ll plant them out there probably in April or May.”

Not letting any grass grow under her, Fields is already planning to have students help her plant the trees and shrubs as soon as the ground is dry from recent rains, she said.

“Most shrubs and trees do much better planting in the fall, because they’re spending their time producing roots and getting a good root system started.”

And she’s also trying to arrange to have the walkway put in soon, too, she said.

“It would be wood chips or river rock. And maybe by the time it gets warm, we can have the benches in.”

Just as Fields schedules her students to water the classroom plants, she said she sees them weeding, watering and being responsible for general garden maintenance in Butterfly Fields.

And to make watering easier, a drip-irrigation system is on her wish list.

Using a new science curriculum this year, Fields said she has already generated excitement in the classroom for the importance of different living systems and how plants and animals differ.

“We learned in the first chapter of our new science book that the difference between an animal cell and plant cell is that an animal cell has no cell wall,” she said.

“The plant wall has a very rigid wall that gives it its support and structure so they don’t fall over. We figured out when you’re eating fiber, you’re eating the plant cells. And it was like, ‘Oh, wow, this is so cool.'”

And is a vegetable garden in the long-range plan?

“It could happen,” Fields said. “We’ll see how much room we have. There’s no reason we couldn’t start tomato plants and those go home with the kids.”

But plans like this cannot come to fruition without funds and encouragement from the administration and parents, she said.

“We’re going to have to buy the shrubs and whatever we need for the walkway,” Fields said.

“It’s going to take time to get it all together, and it’s not all going to be done this year. We’ll try to get done as much as we can.

“And I’m sure we’ll be looking for donations-if people want to donate money or if they have extra plants they want to give us.”

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