George Headley Primary School in St. Andrew has created a ‘Peace of Paradise’ Garden which is positively impacting behavioral change in students at the school and serves as a location of conflict resolution.
The garden was created by students, teachers and members of the community for the 2019 Trees for Peace Competition, organised by the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA) and copped second-place award in the competition.
“We wanted a garden. We did not enter to win anything. It was our first time and we started out doing the garden very late. So when we won for the parish and went on to place second overall in the competition, we were overjoyed. It was out of this world, the excitement,” said main architect of the garden, Ms. Suzan Hart, president of the Environmental Club at the school.
Recalling the journey to the create the garden, Ms. Hart said that although she was called miserable at times and also got discouraged given the late start and lack of funds, she said it was all worth it in the end, given the way it had impacted positively on the students and also teachers.
Once embarking on designing the garden, it became obvious that they had to be creative, so the decision was made to go the recyclable way. This meant that the school used whatever material that could be found on the compound and the surrounding community of Duhaney Park, to get the garden off the ground.
“We went around the community to find things we could use. Things that we designed were made from plastic bottles, old tyres and other things to line the walkway. We didn’t spend any money, only to get the gravel. Everything else we recycled,” Ms. Hart said, adding that the principal, Aretha Willie, also chipped in and bought the gravel, pesticide and foliar spray.
Construction of the garden was both a school family and community affair, which included residents, auxiliary staff, security guards, the canteen manager, students and teachers. Ms. Hart had high praise for a special student, Glendon Whyte, who was involved in every aspect of the creation of the garden.
“Glendon, who is one of the more [energetic] types, was very instrumental in making the garden, he planted the flowers, carried the gravel and sand, he watered, swept up and help to create the games. He did everything. In doing all this he became much calmer. He is now always around there taking a five-minute breaks before classes. He looks after everything,” she said.
The garden, which is located near the front of the school, was completed a few days from when the judging took place. It is replete with plants, which were cut from others and transplanted; games such as hopscotch, ludo, and XOXs (tic tac toe); animals namely, birds and a rabbit for students especially males, who are deemed rough, to take care of; and a waterfall with a male figurine atop it name Glendon.
“When Glendon sees it, he knows that he is important to all of us. We took him to the awards ceremony in Hanover and made him collect the award,” she informed.
As for life now at the school with Peace of Paradise Garden, Ms. Hart explained that its presence has somewhat created behavioral change at the school. While the impact on the 1,132 students is obvious, such as Glendon, for the teachers even more so as Ms. Hart said that the teachers found the space therapeutic and relaxing. In fact, some teachers such as the Home and Family Life Education teacher have one-on-one exercises, with her students in the garden.
“A Grade Six teacher took her students there to relax their brains a bit before they tackled a recent exam. Different clubs use it such as Girl Guides and the 4H club. Some mornings the principal and her two vice principals sit around there and have their discussions and also have a laugh,” she pointed out.
On a personal level, Ms. Hart shared how the garden impacted her. “I have used it for both technical discussions and to have one-on-one discussions with parents as it provides a peaceful atmosphere,” she said. However, the biggest impact she cited was on her relationship with others who participated in constructing the garden.
“I had an issue with another teacher, who also worked on the garden, while we are not close working together to make it a reality made a difference. This is in terms of how we dealt with each other. We worked together despite our differences. Nobody knew that we had issues when working together,” she revealed.
In terms of maintaining the garden both Ms. Hart and Ms. Sonikay Beaumont, president of the 4H Club at the school, who was responsible for alerting the school about the competition, work with students and others such as the caretakers, two male teachers who happened to be gardeners and a parent. “It is an awesome initiative. I endorse it 100 per cent and will support it anytime, anywhere. I applaud the VPA for making a difference,” she said.
The parish of Hanover topped the Trees for Peace Competition with both Maryland All Age and Upper Rock Spring All Age & Infant Schools copping first place and Pell River Primary School also in Hanover, placing third. More than 60 schools across the country participated in the competition, which is now in its second year.
Members of the public are also being invited by the VPA to vote for their favourite Peace Garden on the VPA Facebook page at vpajamaica by March 31.
Violence Prevention Alliance| Institute for Sustainable Development|3 Gibraltar Camp Way| UWI, Mona| Kingston 7|Tele/fax: 702-2079| www.vpajamaica.com; March 19, 2020