Candler County citizens and local students grabbed their shovels and worked all day on January 6 to plant 37 trees at the newly built Metter Elementary School playground. The finished product, the result of two years of planning between community leaders and the University of Georgia’s Archway Partnership, is a vibrant outdoor classroom and pollinator garden that will serve the K-8 facility for years to come.
Two years ago, Archway Partnership connected Kiley Aguar, a UGA graduate student working toward his master of landscape architecture, with a group comprised of teachers, parents and administrators with the goal of transforming the school’s outdoor space with new trees, educational signage and interactive plant beds and learning stations. The group’s leader, Chandra Brown, identified the “Making the Shade” grant opportunity from the Georgia Forestry Commission, and Aguar collaborated with Mark McClellan of the Georgia Forestry Commission to finalize the design and grant proposal.
As part of the process, local Archway Professional, Catherine Muse worked with Brown, Aguar, Candler County Schools Superintendent Bubba Longgrear, local co-champion and Metter Schools K-5 Innovation and Academic Coach Will Thigpen, and local Georgia Forestry Commission regional representative, Mark McClellan, to walk through specifics of the grant and what would be needed of the design. The result of this exciting collaboration was a successfully executed design plan and grant application which gave the school $5000 to purchase shade trees for the playground.
On January 6, representatives from the Georgia Forestry Commission, local garden club members, parent volunteers and others, worked with students and teachers to plant 37 trees across the playground and fields behind Metter Elementary. On previous site visits McClellan had noted that the playground equipment reached temperatures of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, making the importance of these trees fully tangible.
Archway Partnership Executive Committee co-chairman described the project in this way: “This truly was an exciting project to witness from start to finish. Through the design supplied by student Kiley Aguar and with the feedback from the issue workgroup, we saw what could be imagined. Catherine then went to on identify possible funding sources, which were then attained. Finally, to watch the students from kindergarten to fifth grade take part in the planting of the trees just sent it over the top. This project provided an opportunity for folks to work together on a goal, and it will make an already beautiful school complex that much more appealing.”
Aguar also noted, “I had fun being a part of planting day too, I was so impressed! It was great to see everything come together. The kids were happy to help and didn’t mind getting dirty. They were so eager to shovel soil, water in the trees, and ask great questions. It was awesome! Overall, it was a rewarding experience to say the least, and I think that’s my favorite part of being involved with the Archway Partnership is feeling like your hard work can improve a place and the quality of someone else’s life.”