Kerry Starr loved working at Philipsburg Elementary, the children she taught in her third grade class and beautiful things.
“She loved butterflies. She loved flowers,” said her co-worker, first grade teacher Cindy Warming.
But in March, the school community lost Starr after an unexpected illness.
“It affected the building greatly,” said Principal Jeff Baker.
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The people who worked alongside her wanted to do something in her memory. They thought about how much she loved butterflies and asked Baker if maybe they could do something like releasing some of the colorful, winged creatures.
But then, they thought, the butterflies would just go away. There wouldn’t be a permanent way to remember the teacher who touched lives.
Warming had been doing science lessons with her class involving butterflies and found out about the Snetsinger Butterfly Garden at Tom Tudek Memorial Park. The garden features 90 kinds of plants and is home to about 30 varieties of butterfly.
With the help of Pam Ford from the Snetsinger garden, the school came up with a new plan. They would honor Starr by bringing butterflies to the school, creating a pollinator garden of Pennsylvania native plants friendly to nectar-sipping insects.
It took the rest of the year. They worked with Ford. They raised money, including donations made in Starr’s memory and a $600 contribution from the Shaw and Ghaner competition dance team. Students brought in dollar bills or pledged help watering the plants over the summer.
Starr’s third graders had a special job.
“The class planned the garden,” said Baker. “On the science lab tables, they planned it out, where the plants would go, and the walkways.”
For three nights, staff members did the work prepping the site. And on Wednesday, with the help of Ford and three other master gardeners, the whole school helped plant the garden.
“Every student in the building participated,” Baker said. “Hopefully, as the kids get older, they will all be able to look back and say, ‘I had something to do with that garden.’”
Just like Starr might have said about all the children who passed through her classroom.
“She was a great teacher. She loved the kids and the kids loved her. She was just the teacher you’d want for your kids in third grade,” said Warming.