Atrium Project: The Heart of WES
History was made on Friday, September 9th as a year-long project came to an exciting close. Students, teachers, families, and friends celebrated the opening of the new WES atrium. It was a very exciting day!
The WES 20/20 committee, made up of teachers Mrs. Kaplan, Mrs. Hole, Ms. Wile, Mrs. Ryan, Mr. Fantozzi, and Mrs. Dankanich, presented a plan to the PTO in 2015, outlining a variety of beautification projects they would like to complete by the year 2020.
When the new school building was completed in 2012, there was a small, open-air area that remained. One of the committee's projects was transforming this rock-filled and unusable space into an area that could be utilized by the school community. The PTO voted to dedicate the spring fundraising drive to this effort.
WES parent, Mario Gentile (founder and CEO of Shift Design and father of second grade student, Luca) offered to lend his creativity and expertise to the design and installation of the atrium. Mario and his team had worked closely with Mrs. Kaplan and Mrs. Hole on the development of the Leo Leoni garden (outside of the library) in the spring of 2014, and he was happy, once again, to contribute to the transformation of WES.
Mario estimated the project would cost around $15,000, and that became the PTO's fundraising goal. They raised over $16,000 from over 150 families in their first direct appeal campaign. The generosity was amazing: from families of kindergarten students new to the community, through parents of fifth grade students who would not even be around when the project was completed, and everyone in between! In addition to the donations, there was a great number of volunteers who contributed their time, energy, and resources to fast track this project and bring this exciting vision into a promising reality.
One such volunteer was Strath Haven HS student and WES alumnus, George Hollyer. For his Eagle Scout project, he led a crew of scouts (which included several current and former WES students) to prepare the space by emptying it of thirty tons of river rock and loads upon loads of mulch, as well as building the foundation for the decking.
Throughout the project, our district administrators were in full support. Then acting superintendent, Dr. Michael Pladus, and business director and current superintendent, Dr. Lisa Palmer, attended planning meetings and offered their interest and encouragement. WES principal, Josh Peterkin, was on site every weekend workday and lent his truck and muscle to the effort.
Shift Design created a space that is welcoming, peaceful, and functional. Filled with plants and flowers, the space features picnic tables, a small bleacher area that can be used for seating or a stage, and boardwalk style walkways where students can sit or do yoga. WES teachers are excited to bring their classes to the space for lessons, reading time, performances, times for reflection and poetry writing, and much more. It is a beautiful sight when you enter into the immediate hallway of WES. Instead of an uninspiring view of grey rocks and brick walls, guests and students are greeted with a vista of vibrant colors from the flowers, calming green from the grasses and leaves, and an inviting sanctuary, right in the middle of the school building.
Out-going PTO president, Liz Orye, helped oversee the project, and she spoke at the opening reception. Having graduated from SHHS and now shepherding her own sons through their school journeys, it was a true labor of love and gratitude. She likened the location of the atrium to the center, or heart of the school and said, "the HEART of our school now beats because of the HEART of our community".
Fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Kaplan, spoke of the magic of the garden and implored the students in attendance, and throughout the school, to embrace it: "This garden is truly a labor of love. Every rock, every piece of furniture,
and every plant that we see here today was removed, built, or planted by a
human hand. Hundreds of human hands and hours built this garden. I love that. I
also love that this garden is a secret garden, not visible to anyone outside
the building.... To all of you - the students. This garden is for you. You asked for it,
you signed petitions for it, you removed rocks from it, some of you even
donated your own money for it. So this garden is truly yours - yours to visit,
yours to explore, and yours to have moments of rest and contemplation. We hope
that you will love it and care for it. For what we love, we care for. And what
we care for, we love. We want you to start today!"
Great job to all involved! Be sure to stop by WES and explore this magical oasis!