Tucked away inside the perimeter of Lincoln Heights Elementary School, is a beautiful oasis of trees, shrubs and flowers that has been a favorite place for students and staff for many years. But on Thursday, May 12th, the shady courtyard space was transformed into a beautiful butterfly garden that attracted students, staff, and a number of community members. They were all there to share in the pride and excitement of Ms. Elizabeth Propp’s 3rd grade special education class, as they celebrated the culmination of a year’s work with a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Wake County Superintendent Dr. James Merrill, staff from the Wake Ed Partnership, and members of the Fuquay-Varina Garden Club.
The ribbon cutting event was the final step in a year-long project to build a butterfly garden. The project was funded by a grant from the Legacy Program that is managed by the Wake Ed Partnership. The grants foster entrepreneurial projects in schools that use creative approaches to reach students that need a more hands-on approach to learning. For five years, Blake and Debbie Robeson have organized a golf tournament in honor of their autistic son, called “Hit Par for Kirby.” The proceeds of that annual event are split evenly between classroom projects for autistic students in Wake County and Johnston County, and Ms. Propp has been the recipient of several grants from the program.
This year’s grant funded everything from curriculum, to supplies and field trips to two museums – one in person and one virtual field trip. Ms. Propp organized the project and oversaw the work, but the students did all the “heavy lifting.” “The kids did everything from devising a budget, to researching the plants they needed to use, to designing and laying out the boxes and actually planting the flowers,” Teresa Pierrie from Wake Ed Partnership explained. “They learned about area when they laid out the materials to construct the plant boxes, they learned about volume when they figured out how much dirt to put in the boxes, and they learned about botany and weather when they figured out which plants to use.”
The ribbon cutting commenced when the students who created the garden filed out of their classroom and took their places behind an orange ribbon, each one holding a pair of classroom scissors. Principal Todd Baulch welcomed all the visitors and gave a little background on the project and Propps. Visibly proud of his students, Baulch applauded the support of the community for this and other projects—groups like the Garden Club, who cleaned up the courtyard and got it ready for the butterfly garden to be constructed; Home Depot, who landscaped around the school and provided mulch; and three area Methodist churches who tutor some of the students who were involved in the project. He also introduced special guests Dr. Merrill and Ms. Pierrie.
After Mr. Baulch’s introductions and background, Ms. Propps gave some background on the project, including the two field trips that gave students direct exposure to butterflies and the concept of creating an exhibit through research, planning, and careful execution. “We went on a virtual field trip to the Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh and learned a great deal about the life cycle of a butterfly and its importance in our ecosystem. We also traveled to Durham to the Museum of Life and Science, which has one of the largest butterfly conservatories on the East Coast. When we came back, we got to work and began the project in earnest.”
Ms. Propps explained that as part of the project, the students wrote stories from the perspective of a butterfly, and published them all in a book. She presented copies of the book to Dr. Merrill, Ms. Pierrie, and one to the Roberson Family who raised the money that funded the grant.
With that, she turned to the children and counted down to the cutting of the ribbon, an activity that the kids had very obviously been looking forward to for some time! Children all took turns getting a chance to cut the ribbon, and several kept cutting even after the bulk of the ribbon was on the ground.
After the ribbon cutting, the students from Ms. Propp’s classroom hosted other students and all the special guests for tours of their classroom where they presented all the work they have completed in preparation for the creation of the garden. Some read speeches, some showcased artwork and the stories they wrote for the book, and some manned tables with posters of butterfly information. There were even real butterflies in a netted butterfly habitat.
The courtyard around the butterfly garden was adorned with posters detailing how they organized the project and facts about the plants they used and the kinds of butterflies they will attract.
The butterfly garden itself was constructed as portable “boxes” that the students assembled themselves. As Mr. Baulch explained, the courtyard garden is unfortunately scheduled to be demolished to make room for the multi-million dollar renovation of the school that began earlier this year. “Do not fear,” he reassured. “These boxes were created to be mobile so that we can move them into our equally lovely new outdoor space once the renovation is completed.”
The staff at Lincoln Heights Elementary are very impressed with Elizabeth Propp’s dedication to her children and to creating high-quality experiential learning opportunities for her kids. “A lot of these kids need a little extra love and care, and this project has been a great way for them to explore many aspects of the classroom experience in a way that is much more meaningful for them,” shared fellow teacher Annette Steele. “She really put her heart and soul into this.”
There are more grants in the pipeline, and Ms. Propps has plans for several more equally interesting and engaging projects for her students in the next couple of years.