High school class responds to challenge at city cemetery

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By Jessica Keller, The Courier-Herald

When Buckley City Administrator Dave Schmidt asked White River High School agriculture teacher Amy Miller if one of her classes could produce a cemetery entrance landscaping design, she didn't realize the challenge involved.

But Miller and her 20 students proved up to the task, and as part of their landscaping class, drew up the designs and recently completed some of the landscaping for the new cemetery entrance.

Schmidt approached Miller about the project in late fall of last year.

"I thought it was a good idea," she said. "This was a lot bigger project than I thought it would be when I undertook it."

The class came up with a design for the whole entryway, including the inside entrance, berms along the roadway and outside entrance and along Railroad Avenue. Miller broke the 20-student class into four groups to come up with designs for the different sections.

They began the project in March, first learning the basics of landscaping, drawing and designs. In late spring, three students made a presentation to the city for final approval, and the plan was later approved by the City Council.

Miller said the city was easy to work with, which was nice for the class.

"We let them create basically as a class," Schmidt said, adding, other than expanding on the design for the inside entryway to incorporate a memorial park area and making a few adjustments, the city really had little to do with the project other than approving the final product.

Schmidt said in asking the class to take on the project, he had no preconceptions. "I wanted to see what they could do. I was pleased," he said. "What it does is it creates a nice lane going into the cemetery."

For the actual landscaping, the students went to Big E Nursery & Gifts in Buckley and purchased plants and got information on what types of plants would be good for the area, are conducive to the soil type and are relatively low maintenance, which was one of the city's requirements.

For the inside of the cemetery entrance, the students recently planted blue spruce, maples, flowering cherry trees, azalias, evergreens and boxwoods.

"(The students) chose pretty common plants that people are going to know," Miller said.

While the design is complete, the project was set up to be completed in phases. Miller's landscaping class came up with the original design and completed part of the first phase, but future classes are going to add onto or revise the designs and complete some of the work, as part of their classes.

Overall, Miller was pleased with the outcome of the project.

"It's been good for (the students) because it gets them out of the classroom, and it's real," she said.

Miller said because the project was more than just planting trees or flowers outside the school or drawing up "fake" designs, the kids took pride in their work.

"It's something the kids can take ownership in. They worked hard on it, and the classmates worked well together," she said.

Danny Hogerhois, one of Miller's students, said it was nice knowing people visiting the cemetery will be going past and seeing the students' work. He said he enjoyed the planting of the trees and plants the most.

"I think it's pretty cool because we can see what we designed," Hogerhois said.

The project was a lot more in depth than he originally thought it would be, and Hogerhois said the hardest part about the project was doing the background work.

"It's not like putting a few plants in," he said.

In addition to learning about landscaping, Miller said, the kids learned about work ethic, especially on an outside school activity, and working as a team.

"When we started out, we had 20 different images, and we had to work it down to four," she said.

Nick Clark, a student in Miller's class and one of the students who gave the final drawing presentation to the city, said learning to work with other people was an important lesson, one instrumental in the class actually completing the project, and one that made it all the more valuable.

"If you can't compromise and come to a conclusion, you're not going to accomplish anything," he said. "I think it was a good experience, and it was fun."

Jessica Keller can be reached at

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