As part of their student teaching experience, Otterbein University education majors are required to complete a community service project within the school community. This fall, senior, early education major, Jessica Irwin, collaborated with first-grade teachers and students at Mark Twain Elementary School in Westerville, OH to create a friendship garden in memory of their classmate Tucker Northeimer, who was killed in a car accident in December 2012.
“One of the many important and valuable lessons that the students learn at this age is how to be a good friend and citizen in the school community,” Irwin said. “With this in mind, I felt that it was important to surround the planting of our garden with lessons related to friendship and character education, which led us to the name The Friendship Garden.”
Prior to planting the garden, the students engaged in lessons on what it means to be a good friend and characteristics to look for in friends. Irwin said Tucker was used as a model example of a good friend, and many students shared memories of him throughout the lessons.
“Losing a friend is tragic at any age, and for these first graders – and the school community as a whole – losing Tucker last year was very difficult,” Irwin said. “I feel very special to have been able to help these students honor and remember their friend Tucker, and I think caring for this garden will become a very important part of these students’ years at Mark Twain. Tucker will always be a part of this school community, and now he has a special place in The Friendship Garden in front of the school.”
On November 22, Irwin led a dedication ceremony for The Friendship Garden. Though paper flowers stood in place of the real ones, the first-grade students planted 200 flower bulbs that will bloom in the spring, including pink tulips, yellow daffodils, boxwoods and spirea, thanks to a generous donation from Oakland Nursery. Metal sunflowers, which will be replaced with real sunflowers in late spring, were also placed in the garden. A granite bench, along with 15 stepping stones that the students painted in art class were also placed in the garden.
“Pink was chosen as one of the prominent colors of the garden due to the fact that it was Tucker’s favorite colors. Sunflowers were Tucker’s favorite flower, so we felt that it was important to include those in our garden as well,” Irwin said.
Tucker’s classmates will be responsible for the garden’s care until they move on to middle school.
“My love for teaching and working with young learners was confirmed, not only by this project, but by my whole student teaching experience,” Irwin said. “I feel lucky to have had this opportunity and look forward to watching the garden continue to grow and flourish over the years to come.”