May 18, 2008

     In 2006, students of the Trojan Consul expressed an interest in developing places on campus where they could have special gatherings.  Within this same conversation with the Trojan Consul, our principal, Mr. Blake, indicated that he had dreamed of an outdoor performance/instructional area on campus.  Student Laura Mahan, a Trojan Consul member and a landscape design student at ATC, offered to organize and involve the classes at ATC which would be necessary for this project’s beginning.  Getting the ball rolling, she and other members of her class began to lay the ground work for the location of the pergola.  Along with the students and faculty, in the fall of 2006, I, not knowing the plan, watched curiously as footings were dug and pillars were erected.  At that point, the project stalled for a time, and we fondly named the pillars standing on this barren plot, Stonehenge.

    Coinciding with the creation of Stonehenge and still not knowing what these pillars were designed to be, the choral Department’s Parent Booster Board began thinking outside of the box on issues of funding.  With the necessary building of our district’s third high school, a reality of all established programs was decreased revenue for these highly visible and effective programs.  Our goal was to determine how we could undergird the choral program without increased student fund raising.

    Ideas were bounced around, but the one that held my attention was parent Laura Klaeren’s idea of engraved pavers.  Thinking on that idea for a few days, watching Stonehenge with amusement, wishing this barren plot were more useful and beautiful, knowing my love of gardening, and having a Booster Board President, Laura Mallard, who is a distinguished Master Gardner, I just wondered, “Could we?”  Could we create a beautiful space for our students, be responsible for the maintenance ourselves, and run an engraving program to enhance the area, to honor Northwestern, its past and present, and also undergird the choral program?  I spoke with Laura Mallard, and she was on board immediately.

    We wrote our proposal, presented it to Mr. Blake, and he agreed that if we could find the seed money to begin the garden, he was all for it.  The Legacy Garden began.  I searched for grant opportunities and found the Lowes Toolbox for Education Grant that had criteria matching our dream.  I wrote the grant, and in April of 2007, we received word that Lowes was granting us their maximum allowance, $5000.  With that, the project was official and began at Laura Mallards’ dining room table.

    I cannot say enough about Laura Mallard.  Her sons, whom I had the pleasure of teaching, warned me that if their mom took on a project, she lived it.  I now understand the meaning of their words.  What you see here is Laura’s design.  I cannot begin to tell you the number of hours this lady spent drawing, consulting, investigating, and implementing.  She has lived this project 24/7 for a year.  What is even more amazing is that her youngest graduated from Northwestern in 2007, and yet she has continued to give so very much to this school.  Laura Mallard is indeed a rare gem.  I sincerely thank her husband, Wes, and her sons, Nate and Zac, for allowing and encouraging her passion.

    Before we could install any of the plantings, the majority of the hardscape, irrigation, and electrical work had to be completed.  With Laura’s drawings in hand, with the plot carefully marked by Laura and faithful Troubadour alumni parent, Cheryl Lee, with the advise and assistance of Operations staff Mike Armour, Eddie Robinson, Dale Adkins, Donnie Parrish, Keith Windham, and Gene Bauman, we began.  This campus project that our students truly wanted became infectious.  David Finley, ATC masonry instructor, was able to use part of the hardscape development as hands-on instruction for his masonry students.  With his students, ATC’s carpentry instructor, Chuck Hailey, took on the building and installation of the outstanding pergola top as part of his curriculum, with brackets built by the welding department, led by Derrick Crenshaw.  Teacher David Bartles began planning how he could incorporate the garden into his teaching of science.  All the while, Laura Mallard coordinated everything.

    With seed money quickly being spent, I began what will become an annual Buy-A-Brick campaign.  I began by contacting the choral program’s alumni of my 9 year tenure here, each student of the classes of 2006 and 2007, and advertising in the “Around the Schools’ section of The Herald.  At the beginning of second semester (2007), we contacted the family of each present senior.  From these people, word of the project continued to spread.  As orders have come in, this magnificent project has continued to pay for itself.

    On October 27, 2007, our nation’s designated Make a Difference Day, and also a damp, chilly day, seventy-seven volunteers planted and mulched over one hundred-fifty plantings in the garden.  In addition to several teachers and administrators, these volunteers were students and parents of students representing Northwestern’s Choral Department, Environmental Science Club, Key Club, Student Council, Junior Civitans, and eighteen Winthrop University Close Scholars, members of Boy Scout Troop 116, members of Town and Country Garden Club, and Rock Hill citizens at large.

    Although we couldn’t do a tremendous amount of actual garden work through the winter, plans and behind the scenes work continued.  Through a grant written by Laura to The Garden Club of South Carolina, Inc., the Town and Country Garden Club was awarded a grant of $500.00 through the “Pathway to Beautification Grant Program” to be used to support the Legacy Garden project.  Also, desiring to tie this garden not only to Northwestern, but also to the arts and the state of South Carolina, Laura proposed artwork for the blank exterior science wing wall.  We had already had a large center stone engraved with a music quote inserted into the center of the pergola floor.  The garden itself was becoming a stunning work of visual art.  What about dance?

    Laura became acquainted with 2007 Northwestern graduate, artist Kennon Smith, and the artwork you see, titled “Carolina Spirit,” began.  With the generous financial assistance of choral department parents Bill and Sheila McCarthy, the necessary materials were purchased for our ATC welding department, taught by Derrick Crenshaw, to take Kennon’s design and transform it into wall art as part of their learning experience.  To ensure longstanding durability, ATC’s auto body shop students, taught by Mark Dellinger, coated the work for us, the welding department added secure brackets, and just this past week, Mr. Blake, Mr. David Weeks, and Mr. Irvin Parsons installed Kennon Smith’s “Carolina Spirit.”

    Also this past week, as students from my 3rd block assisted Mr. Blake, Laura, and members of the Town and Country Garden Club, the final plantings around the pergola were installed and our Carolina Fence Garden – with Yellow Jessamine, a water source, a blue granite state rock, and a wren house – became official.  With the guidance of Josh Munn of our operations staff and the assistance of choral department parent Troy Butler’s crew and business, The Lawn Butler, the beautiful sod, mulch dressing, and trenching completed the elegant look that you see.

    The development of this garden has had and will continue to have far reaching impact.  Already it has been an avenue for community building between students, parents, teachers, administrators, operations personnel, and community partners.  Our society has become extremely self-centered and compartmentalized.  This project has brought hundreds of people, donating an amazing number of hours, together to work for a common cause, the enrichment of our youth.  Also, Northwestern now has a beautiful welcoming place for students to gather, whether before school, during lunch, with their teachers for class in the amphitheater, with friends for conversation in the pergola, or for an evening concert or reception.  Additionally, this garden will enhance the students’ pride in their school and ownership of their own education.  It is said that if one wears his best clothes, his actions tend to be more exemplary.  We believe that in placing importance on the beautification of our students’ learning environment and even expanding this environment, our students will better grasp the importance of education, and, in turn, make it a higher priority than they would have otherwise.  Finally, this garden will further bond our community to Northwestern High School and vise versa.  Over thirty years of graduates have walked these halls and there will be many, many more years of graduates to come.  What our school is, the reputation it has, and the traditions that have been built are all a direct result of those who have worked and have been educated here.  We need to honor those who set and raised the bar and rekindle these relationships to strengthen community and school bonds, for when both work together, we are most successful.

    This Legacy Garden project can only make our school stronger as a learning community and family.  In today’s society, so many people are satisfied with the status quo.  At Northwestern High School, we want our students to see beyond the status quo, to develop the drive, desire, and determination to excel, and to be believers that lifelong learning along with self-initiative is the key to their future.  Teachers and administrators at our school work tirelessly to mentor students to see beyond today, to plan for the long term.

    This project will be a fabulous mentoring tool.  The bricks in this garden will be a symbol of hope for the struggler, a symbol of self-discipline for the foolhardy, a symbol of accomplishment for the one who will be the first high school graduate from his family, a symbol of being of important to someone else, of leaving a mark in history.  The beauty of the garden will serve as a symbol of the sincere love we have for our youth and our deep desire for them to have every opportunity to be successful in their pursuits.  This garden marks the past, present, and future.  Indeed, it is a true gift, a legacy, for our students.

Legacy Garden
Block example
Legacy Garden
Brick example