PTA plants seeds for reading garden at JBF elementary


As spring approaches, the PTA at John Brown Francis Elementary School is preparing to break ground on a reading garden that would beautify the historic school.

John Brown Francis is currently celebrating its 60th Anniversary, and the completion of the reading garden, a collection of park benches and greenery, would coincide with the end of the year celebration in June.

The reading garden was the brainchild of Tracey Dunn, a parent of a first and second grader at the school, and member of the PTA.

“I wanted to do something to beautify the school,” said Dunn, who had tossed around repainting and decorating the school, but was told it had to be more maintenance friendly. She began to brainstorm ways to permanently enhance the school’s appearance, and the idea for the reading garden was born. With the help of PTA president, Jacqueline Harris-Connor, the idea got off its feet, and parents began to collaborate on how to make the dream a reality.

Dunn sketched a design for the garden, which will be constructed at the school’s main entrance. Now the entrance to the school is a barren grassy stretch with a concrete utility pad at its center, but Dunn and Harris-Connor hope to completely transform the area.

“It started out small,” said Dunn of her idea, “But then it grew and grew.”

Dunn and Harris-Connor will leave existing oak trees in place, but will plant new shrubbery and flowers on the perimeters of the grass. A new cement slab with a compass rose at its center and several new park benches will provide students areas to sit and play.

In addition to the plantings and benches there will be educational tools throughout the garden, including a tree with the branches of government, mathematical dice and botanical labels on the greenery.

“We’re going to landscape it so that kids can go out there during lunchtime,” said Harris-Connor. “We hope it will spark some of their imaginations.”

A professional cement worker will carve the design of a book and planets into the existing cement utility slab.

“We couldn’t get rid of it,” said Dunn, “So we’re doing something with it.”

There will also be a memorial area for deceased students, and a special memorial for Ben Haight, a student at John Brown Francis who lost his battle to Neuroblastoma, a form of cancer, in 2003.

But the main feature of the garden will be the new brick walkway, paved with bricks engraved with names of students, families and community members. Individuals and businesses can purchase bricks, which ranges in price from $50 to $270.

So far, about 20 bricks have been sold.

“We’re reaching out to former students,” said Harris-Connor, who hopes to create a type of tribute to past and present students and families.

The project, which has gotten off the ground thanks to PTA seed money, will cost about $10,000, but most of the labor and supplies will be donated. Scott Cotter, a parent who will be donating his time and machinery, will begin excavating the area in April. On May 19 the school will host a “volunteer day,” where teams of volunteers can come to work on the garden. Refreshments will be provided, and participants will get free t-shirts.

The sales of bricks will cover the remaining expenses.

“There’s a pretty decent profit on each brick,” said Dunn, who hopes leftover money can go to other projects around the school.

Dunn doesn’t have any previous design or landscaping experience, but has managed to envision and draft what she hopes will be functional space by the end of the school year.

“Tracey has done a tremendous amount of footwork,” said Harris-Connor. “Her vision is amazing.”

Once completed, the school will hold a school-wide celebration of the new space. They hope members of the community will get involved with the project by spreading the word, volunteering and buying bricks. Already Harris-Connor said local businesses have jumped on board to support the project.

“We want it to be community-based,” she said.

Once the weather is warmer, she hopes members of the neighborhood and surrounding areas will come to the garden to read a book or soak up the sun.

“We want the community to know the doors of this school are always open,” she said.

For more information on the reading garden, or to purchase a brick, visit


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