“Ooh! Look at him go!”
There were squeals and peals of joy as 42 kindergarteners at Sycamore Elementary School ran to and fro, exploring their new butterfly garden. The project is thanks to several members of the Gaston Chapter of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO), who brought to life kindergarten teacher Chasity Sherum’s idea for a butterfly sanctuary, in time for Earth Day.
“It’s got lots of whimsy, the area is just what we wanted it to be,” said Gaston APSO President Jodi Webb. “I have a 5-year-old daughter, and this project for Sycamore Elementary struck a nerve with me. I loved the idea of an outdoor project that would teach the children about the importance of taking care of the Earth.”
Gaston APSO donated about $1,000 to the project, as well as employees’ time and labor.
Bringing butterfly sanctuary to life
Ten volunteers from Alabama Power’s Gaston Steam Plant worked all day on April 5 to build two large butterfly beds: boxed, raised areas filled with colorful plants that attract butterflies.
Webb, a chemical technician at Plant Gaston, worked with Regina Hudson, owner of Gina’s Greenhouse and plant nursery in Childersburg, in adding flowering perennials that attract butterflies.
The plants include spearmint, dill, parsley, lantana, purple verbena, milkweed and purple-hued butterfly bushes.
The fenced area includes butterfly houses, along with watering cans for children’s use in tending the garden. The kindergarteners painted the four butterfly houses made by Gaston employees.
Thirty colorful garden pavers – arranged to encourage the children to play hopscotch – hinder little feet from carrying dirt and mud into the school.
A Gaston welder made a large iron butterfly to decorate the area, and Gaston volunteers painted benches with bright green and bright blue colors. The final touch: In remembrance of the day, each kindergartener added their handprints to the wooden privacy fence.
Gaston APSO member Tabetha Lemonds originally presented the idea to the APSO board after a Sycamore Elementary teacher mentioned Sherum’s desire to incorporate the peer-based learning project. Lemonds, a research associate at the National Carbon Capture Center – Power Systems Development Facility, was thrilled to help.
“It’s a pretty cool little project,” said Lemonds, an APSO member for five years. “We loved watching the kids decorate, plant the flowers and explore thier new garden. They were so excited.”
Providing a higher-quality learning experience
Sherum is thankful for Gaston APSO’s help in creating the butterfly garden. Her students have been studying the insects’ life cycle for three weeks. Gaston APSO purchased painted lady butterfly kits and nets to hold the growing larva, allowing Sherum’s students to watch the insects as they grow and also learn about plant life.
“The children will grow butterflies in class, which is about a two-week process,” said Sherum, a hands-on teacher who transplanted milkweed from her yard to the garden to encourage the painted lady butterflies to stay in the area. She said the butterflies have a two- to three-week lifespan.
“They’ve learned about what butterflies do to survive, and about their life cycle,” said Sherum, who noted that monarchs live six to eight months and migrate south for winter. “The children are so excited. They were outside looking in the garden today – they want to read outside and use their magnifying glasses to look at bugs. The fact that they got to put their hands in this garden and help with it has made a difference.
“I appreciate the Gaston APSO team so much for giving this opportunity to Sycamore Elementary, because we don’t get a lot of opportunities like this, being a Title I school,” she added. “The fact that they came out and did all this is a blessing. The whole school has asked a million questions about it. The third- and fourth-graders are so excited, too. It makes a great outdoor classroom.”
Gaston APSO members ‘pay it forward’
Seeing children eager to learn is the “payoff” that Webb desires.
“I really believe in paying it forward,” said Webb, who has worked at Plant Gaston for more than seven years. “This is about letting kids know they can make an impact on others. I tell my children all the time, that you being on this Earth can make a positive impact on other people.”