Public PK-12 School District in Dalton, Georgia

Dalton Public Schools News

Staff, students and butterflies find sanctuary at Westwood Pollinator Garden
Students standing in Westwood garden

Westwood School is championing a hands-on approach to outdoor learning through its flourishing pollinator garden.

Sarah Lewis, whose daughter is a student at Westwood, has spent the last eight months nurturing this sanctuary for Monarch butterflies. She says the garden is allowing students to take ownership of their environment.

“It was my labor of love,” Lewis said. “I was there almost every day this summer watering, pulling weeds and watching it turn into this beautiful garden.”

In the spring of 2017, Westwood’s first grade class collaborated with Brookwood’s first grade class to learn about butterfly gardens. Brookwood’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teacher Carmen Flammini helped design a plan for the garden, which included a vision for adding onto the garden in the years ahead. The upper garden was planted that spring. 

What then became an Eagle Scout project by Westwood Early Intervention Program teacher Lele Dean’s son has grown into a self-sustaining garden of perennials, milkweed and housing for pollinators such as honeybees and birds.

“In the fall of 2017, my son, Jake, began working on his Eagle Scout project,” Dean said. “He knew he wanted to complete his project at Westwood. He had seen my excitement and heard me tell stories at home about how much the children loved it. He decided to build the lower garden and make improvements to the garden area and the greenhouse.”

Jake added a walking path through the garden and a picnic table. According to Dean, one of his favorite parts of his project was being able to include a Westwood first grade scout troop to help with the project.

“These scouts are part of the group of students that have been helping Sarah with the work she is doing in the garden,” Dean said. “It has been so cool watching students be so involved with the work Sarah is doing in the garden.”

“This spring is when I said, ‘I’m going to transform this thing,’” Lewis said. “That’s where I put my efforts and volunteer time. I love working in my own garden at home, and I love educating myself on native plants and native flowers.”

Lewis said the collaboration between other parents, teachers and students has made the experience unique.

“I like to be there and be a part of my child’s school and education,” Lewis said. “You can do that in elementary school. That’s what makes it so special.”

Martha Thomason, a challenge teacher at Westwood, helped start a garden club for fourth and fifth grade students. She has advocated for the development of the garden from its early stages.

Butterfly on flower

“I applied for and received a Whitfield County Farm Bureau grant for starting a native garden adjacent to the butterfly garden,” Thomason said. “Sarah is the parent of one of my students as well, and she volunteered and has been amazing. She stepped up and worked with parents and students to get the gardens cleaned up.”
 
After months of hard work, the garden was formally recognized as a member of the Rosalynn Carter Butterfly Trail, a program inspired by Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter to help increase habitat for Monarch Butterflies.

“We had 28 monarch caterpillars that we rescued off of our milkweed,” Lewis said. “We brought them in to raise them. It’s not only beautiful, but it's a learning tool for all of them.”

Lewis added that she is grateful for the generosity of the Westwood Parent Teacher Organization in allocating funds specifically for the garden.

“We are very lucky at Westwood,” Lewis said. “We have huge parental support. I hope that always continues.”

According to Dean, learning in the butterfly garden was a natural way for students to learn about the vital part pollinators play in our world.

“Because of the butterfly garden, students were able to observe the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly from the egg to the actual emerging of the butterfly from the chrysalis,” Dean said. “I think being so involved with the garden and watching how their work made a difference in the butterfly’s life will help them realize that they can continue to make a difference in our environment and the world around them.”

To volunteer with Westwood’s pollinator garden, contact Sarah Lewis at sarahbuchananlewis@gmail.com.