It was years in the making and will take a while to bloom but the bird and butterfly garden at J.C. Parks Elementary School was officially opened on June 13. Situated at the front of the school, the garden was dedicated to Deanna Wheeler, the school’s science teacher who was instrumental in making Parks a forerunner in green-centric programs.

“Well, what a beautiful day,” Principal Gregory Miller said in his welcoming remarks at the ceremony. “I think I might hear some birds chirping and maybe even see some of our butterflies flying around.”

While many of the green features at Parks — the upland forest, the wetlands — were created and cultivated using sweat equity from staff and students, the bird and butterfly garden was designed and planted with the help of The Outdoor Living Company, landscaping, and hardscaping group.

Miller credited Wheeler for not only creating green spaces at the school but generating excitement for them among staff and students.

“I need to make a correction,” Wheeler said. “It’s not due to my efforts, it’s due to everyone’s efforts here. We didn’t want it to be a monoculture where only one thing grew — which was crabgrass. We wanted to make environmentally friendly and fun outdoor classrooms for everyone.”

Wheeler was quick to share the credit with others, including Ronda Goldman, a fifth-grade teacher and member of the Charles County Garden Club who visited Parks weekly more than 13 years ago to start plotting out how Parks could best implement more green features. There have been several grants from sources such as Lowe’s, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Charles County Arts Alliance, and others. More than 17 community groups joined staff, students, and their families to help with planning and planting. “They planted our upland forest and 5,000 plants in our wetlands and rain garden,” Wheeler said. Staff from the Nanjemoy Creek Environmental Education Center lent their expertise and Vicki Marckel, an art teacher at Henry E. Lackey High School, painted murals on the front of the school depicting how the health of the environment in Southern Maryland affects far away locations such as the North Pole.

The bird and butterfly garden was developed when virtual learning was put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19. “This project started a couple of years ago during online learning because of COVID,” Wheeler told students who attended the ceremony. “We were trying to figure out what to do with all you guys.” More than 300 Parks students studied butterflies and their lifecycles, built habitats and birdfeeders, and went on a virtual field trip to the Nanjemoy Creek Center. It’s been a long journey, but it’s almost done,” Wheeler said.  

The garden was dedicated to Wheeler in appreciation of the contributions she made to the school. The garden will be known as Wheeler’s Winged Wonderland. “Our bird and butterfly garden is just starting to take shape,” Miller said. “In the months and years to come, it’s going to be something quite spectacular.”

Wheeler agreed. “It will be absolutely gorgeous when it starts flowering and we see the swirls,” she said. “I’m looking forward to many bird and butterfly adventures.”

Miller said he hopes the fifth graders who are on their way to sixth grade — many attending neighboring Matthew Henson Middle School — will continue to check in on the garden’s progress in the coming years. “Like you, this garden has great potential,” Miller said. “And like you, it will be something that will make a positive difference in this world.”

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