Most Senior English classes consist of writing papers, reading books, and presenting research projects. For Zac Landefeld’s students, these typical assignments were a part of their work, along with an idea for how they could leave a permanent mark on the school grounds.
During the winter, Landefeld spoke to principal Jim Albanese about a way to fulfill his students’ goal and to fulfill a vision he had developed years earlier when the renovation to the high school and bus loop were completed.
“I just kept looking at this vast empty space on the west side of the building, thinking something should be there to beautify the area, make it more nature-friendly, and offer a space for students to work outside for a change of environment,” Landefeld said.
“I proposed the project to my classes this year because they were small and in consecutive periods, which I thought would make it manageable. They had a positive response and wanted to make their mark,” he added.
Albanese was excited when Landefeld approached him with the idea because he is a “huge supporter for giving back.” He said, “They presented their plan to the Board of Education and received great reviews. Mr. Landefeld was able to perform this project while continuing to have his students work on English curriculum subject matter. Overall, this project taught our students many valuable lessons far exceeding a typical assignment.”
Students have worked on various activities for most of the second semester. They began by establishing committees in order to effectively divide the work and to ensure everyone was pulling their weight.
Once organization was complete, the real work took began. The communications committee contacted members of administration and presented a proposal to the Board of Education in February. The members of the design committee built sketches of the area, and the finance team drafted a budget. As soon as the materials were purchased, the labor group — and everyone else — began construction.
Senior Aaron Miller said, “The project was as a way to experience real-world situations.” As part of that process, seniors had to seek the advice of experts.”
Multiple tree and shrub experts talked with students in order to decide what to plant, including Amy Dutt, owner of Urban Wild, Ltd., a sustainable land design and planning firm; Ed Kapraly, a former Buckeye Valley science teacher who now operates Riverside Native Trees; and current high school science teachers Carol Arny and Kate Simons.
“The students and I had many conversations and made adjustments for days after these meetings. My goal was to blend the experts’ advice with the students’ vision while still being practical,” Landefeld said.
After these consultations, design sketches, and 3D mock-ups, students made selections for purchases. They then measured and staked where items would be placed based on their scale model, dug holes, and planted trees.
During multiple days of cold, rainy weather just prior to Spring Break, students poured cement to set posts for the benches, and shoveled piles of dirt to be hauled away from the area.
They returned from break to cut the posts and top them with benches, dig out a walking area in front of the benches and fill it with gravel, while also planting grasses and flowers for decoration, according to communications committee chair Natalie Davidson.
Landefeld credits veteran Industrial Tech teacher Bob Hoak for contributing his expertise to help the construction of the benches move forward.
“Without Mr. Hoak, the seating area would not have come together the way it did. He offered tools and step-by-step advice; he also cut our posts level after we marked them. He allowed a couple of students to use time in his tech class to sand and prep our bench tops and to create placards for our sponsors.”
Some staff members sponsored part of the project. This became one of the ways the group raised funds to pay for needed items, along with seeking business and family donations. It also became a way for some staff members to pay tribute to people who had passed, according to senior Leo Wells.
Once most of the seniors’ contribution was complete, biology teachers Carol Arny and Kate Simons found a way to make the project more interdisciplinary by having their students research, select, and plant native grasses and wildflowers in beds they dug out to frame the existing seating area.
“We wanted to guide students in creating demonstration plots for native plant use in gardens. Native plants are ideal to use because they support native organisms, such as pollinators,” Simons said.
This was partially supported by Preservation Parks of Delaware County, who provided teachers with native plants. The biology teachers purchased other plants and mulch from local businesses, including Scioto Gardens and Price Organics.
Miller enjoyed the project because he believes it gave him good experience as he hopes to go into engineering and continue designing.
“I talked with landscape architects to help create a space that was both beautiful and practical, and I really enjoyed every second of it. The project is unlike anything I have done in school before, but I think it gave all of us valuable experience, whether it be with communicating with businesses, meeting with professionals, or even just working together as a team,” Miller said.
The space is practical for students and “conducive to learning,” said Simons. The school’s wifi internet reaches the area, and since all students have access to class laptops, they can accomplish their normal coursework while using the area.
Jenna Johnson, a sophomore at Buckeye Valley, thinks a “change in scenery is good for everyone and could possibly help kids focus better at times. I look forward to being able to use it and enjoy being in nature, connecting with other people, and still studying and learning at the same time.”
The senior students and Mr. Landefeld thanked all of the sponsors and contributors. Without their generous help, the project would not have been realized. He also gave credit to parents who loaned his team supplies or were sponsors, and most importantly, recognize each senior who saw this project to its completion.