It’s taken years and will take a while to bloom, but JC Parks Elementary School’s Bird and Butterfly Garden officially opened on June 13. Located in front of the school, the garden was dedicated to Deanna Wheeler, the school’s science teacher, who was instrumental in making Parks a forerunner in environmentally focused programs.
“Well, what a beautiful day,” said Principal Gregory Miller in his welcoming remarks at the ceremony. “I think I could hear some birds chirping and maybe even see some of our butterflies flying around.”
While many of the greenery in parks—the upland forest, the wetlands—were created and cultivated with the sweat capital of staff and students, the bird and butterfly garden was designed and planted with the help of The Outdoor Living Company, landscaping and hardscaping group.
Miller credited Wheeler with not only creating green space at the school, but inspiring enthusiasm for it among staff and students.
“I have to make a correction,” Wheeler said. “It’s not because of my efforts, it’s because of the efforts of everyone here. We didn’t want it to become a monoculture where only one thing grows – namely crabgrass. We wanted to create eco-friendly and fun outdoor classrooms for everyone.”
Wheeler was quick to share the recognition with others, including Ronda Goldman, a fifth-grade teacher and member of the Charles County Garden Club, who visited parks weekly more than 13 years ago to plan how parks could best implement more green features. There have been several grants from sources such as Lowe’s, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Charles County Arts Alliance and others. More than 17 community groups joined staff, students and their families to help with the planning and planting. “They planted our upland forest and 5,000 plants in our wetlands and rain gardens,” Wheeler said. Staffers from the Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center provided their expertise, and Vicki Marckel, an art teacher at Henry E. Lackey High School, painted murals on the front of the school showing how the health of southern Maryland’s environment translates to far-flung places affects, such as the North Pole.
The Bird and Butterfly Garden was developed when virtual learning was put in place to help slow the spread of COVID-19. “This project started a few years ago during online learning because of COVID,” Wheeler told students attending the ceremony. “We were trying to figure out what to do with all of you.” More than 300 Parks students studied butterflies and their life cycles, built habitats and bird feeders, and took a virtual field trip to the Nanjemoy Creek Center. It’s been a long journey, but it’s almost over,” said Wheeler.
The garden was dedicated to Wheeler in recognition of her contributions to the school. The garden will be known as Wheeler’s Winged Wonderland. “Our bird and butterfly garden is just beginning to take shape,” Miller said. “It’s going to be something quite spectacular over the coming months and years.”
Wheeler agreed. “It’s going to be absolutely gorgeous when it starts blooming and we see the swirls,” she said. “I look forward to many bird and butterfly adventures.”
Miller said he hopes that fifth graders heading into sixth grade – many attend neighboring Matthew Henson Middle School – will continue to check out the garden’s progress in the years to come. “Like you, this garden has great potential,” Miller said. “And like you, it will be something that will make a positive difference in this world.”