Edgar Road Elementary Project
by Hayley Schnaath
Mulching does not seem like an all-important charity event. But for parent volunteers and Webster University students working at Edgar Road Elementary School , landscaping is a big deal. Through Webster Works Worldwide on October 1, students from the university helped make a difference at the Webster Groves elementary school by aiding parent volunteers with fall landscaping duties.
The day began with a meeting of 10 volunteers inside Zach Haugen’s apartment on the St. Louis campus at 8:30 a.m. Haugen, as a Webster Village Apartments resident assistant, was the team leader. A junior animation major, Haugen chose this project after holding a landscaping job over the past summer. He said he enjoyed being a leader, as well as getting out of class for the day.
The plan was to meet a half hour before the scheduled starting time for work at Edgar Elementary, about a mile from Webster’s campus. After making sure everyone had a ride to the school, the team set out. Emily Pieper, a sophomore music education major and a true believer in Webster Works Worldwide (WWW), said that service was “a great way to give back to the community.” She participated last year as well, painting a mural.
The Edgar Road Elementary project was originally for people in Haugen’s and Pieper’s apartment building, but Haugen had to open it up to all Webster students for lack of interest. By the time of the event, the spots were full.
The destination was a one-story brick building with a large circle drive in front. A monument sign with the school’s name was near the road, and behind it a pole flew the American flag. On either side of the front steps, evenly placed shrubs lined the school wall. Inside, Webster volunteers reported to the principal’s office to get a visitor’s name-tag. Then they were set. From the front of the school, the team split into two groups. The team on the north side stuck to mulching several patches of land, while the team to the south both mulched and trimmed bushes.
The help from Webster volunteers was appreciated by Edgar Elementary parent volunteers. Both Haugen and Pieper understood the importance of taking the workload off these volunteers. Parents did work alongside Webster students on October 1st, but would have had a much bigger job without the help.. The parents concentrated on pulling weeds while the Webster volunteers mulched. As well as provide volunteers, the Parent Teacher Organization of the elementary school has made a lot of things possible for the school. Through the efforts of one parent volunteer, the mulch used for WWW was donated, Edgar Elementary principal Pam Retzlaff said. The parents are extremely involved in the school, she said. Their dedication is seen in one huge investment of installing a climbing wall in the gym. According to Retzlaff, seven fathers involved in construction work put it up themselves.
Retzlaff showed a strong sense of community when speaking of WWW. Webster volunteers have been helping at the elementary school for four or five years. “It’s wonderful for us to have a connection to the university,” she said.
It was Retzlaff’s belief that the Webster volunteers would no longer view the elementary school as “just a building” in passing. Now they had a connection to the school and would be able to say they helped out there. It is important for the two schools to have a good relationship since they share the same community, she said.
The volunteers did not have much to say about the school children. Pieper believed the children to be uninterested in the volunteer-work. Ordie Page, a freshman computer science major, added that they probably did not care about the volunteers. But Retzlaff said that she made sure her students knew the importance of the helpers. Announcements were made about how Webster volunteers were helping out, she said, and the marquee outside the school listed the project so parents also knew.
Volunteers mulched several plant beds including ones within a small courtyard enclosed by the school building. Volunteers had to push wheelbarrows full of mulch through the halls of the school to reach the area. The courtyard had a path running through it, as well as fragile leaf stepping stones, several of which broke in the course of work. This was a place for the children to study and read, Retzlaff said, adding that students even planted things, such as potatoes, in the courtyard. And this area also houses the school pet.
During work in the courtyard, one small boy warned volunteers not to spread the mulch too thickly over a place where a turtle had buried its eggs. Volunteer John Buck assured him that they would thin the mulch at that spot. Retzlaff said that everyone at the school thought they were both male turtles, until one laid eggs. After that, she said one of the turtle’s names was “feminized.”
Retzlaff would also like to see the courtyard used for social gatherings after school performances. One of the school’s next projects will be to light the courtyard for this purpose. Lighting would also be designed to show off the school’s mural. This community mural is made up of various clay pieces such as handprints and animals, and is mounted on one wall bordering the courtyard. Each child made something for the mural, said Retzlaff. It took months and cost approximately $3,500 to complete. The school had a mason install it.
After volunteers finished their WWW landscaping job, they enjoyed lunch and conversation before leaving. Turkey sandwiches, apples and cookies were laid out on a picnic table in the back of the school. Retzlaff said she always took care to feed WWW volunteers. The workday ended at about 12:30 p.m., and the Webster volunteers rode back to the campus to enjoy the remains of the day.