By Leah Campbell
UNC Staff Writer
The Durham VOICE
Second-graders squeal with laughter as they plunge their hands and trowels into the soft soil surrounding the flagpole in front of Eastway Elementary School.
But the students aren’t haphazardly playing in the dirt, they are playing an integral role in the Open Spaces facet of the Northeast Central Durham Livability Initiative.
Seven-year old Justin Green, alongside city employees, volunteers and parents, helped plant 55 flower bulbs to improve the quality of green spaces around the community.
“I’m going to watch these flowers grow big and tall,” Justin said with an air of importance. “I’ll check on them everyday.”
According to its website, the Initiative is a program to revamp the identity of the neighborhood by coordinating public transportation, facilitating economic development, improving environmental standards, and addressing the challenges of climate change.
Eastway has partnered with the Initiative, incorporating its green-schemes into the plant-based science curriculum – focusing mainly on the Initiative’s major vision: improving the environment, bettering health and building community.
After planting the bulbs, Justin and his classmates in Karen Mills’ second-grade class read aloud from handouts about the life cycle of the plants.
“We planted pumpkin seeds in the classroom,” Mills said. “It’s hard for the students to see that these bulbs that they’re planting are seeds just like the pumpkin seeds because they look so different.”
According to the Initiative’s feasibility report, future events around Eastway include a clean-up of Goose Creek, work in four raised garden beds, and N.C. State Education-approved classroom instruction on gardening and water education. The crops from the garden beds will be used in part to feed the community, Eastway Principal Star Sampson said.
“We are very proud to be involved in the program,” Sampson said. “We don’t have the funds for these beautification programs, so for someone to volunteer them is really an amazing thing.”
Additionally, Mills said that the students had planted trees as part of the Initiative earlier in the year.
“The Livability Initiative is all about the students and residents taking an active part in making the changes that they want for themselves and their community,” said Lynwood Best, community engagement manager with the city’s Department of Neighborhood Improvement Service. “I hope that everyone, not only in the community but citywide, will take an active role in helping the environment.”
Robin Dixon, a member of the Multi-functional Open Community Green Spaces core, said the bulb planting at Eastway was a great success. She said she loves working with the local public schools. Best agreed, saying that in the students he sees the future of the green community – future preservationalists, environmentalists and horticulturalists.
“I’ve met really great people who are passionate about their neighborhood,” Dixon said. “I can see the need for volunteers, money and support and I plan to see that these needs are met.”
Dixon is also starting a walking club to get parents, students and the surrounding community involved in the Trails aspect of the Initiative.
“The Initiative gives our city department, students, volunteers and residents the opportunity to give back,” Best said. “Change starts with one seed, one step and a thought. This is the opportunity for everyone to make a change one seed at a time.”