By Barbara Jones, Staff Writer, LA Daily News | http://bit.ly/POj9Bh
9/15/2012 :: Third-grader Alexandra Martinez carefully patted the dirt around the roots of the wild lilac bush, then moved on to the next shrub planted by her dad.
"I want to help plant the butterfly garden so my school can be beautiful," Alexandra said Saturday, a pink hat shielding her from the hot morning sun.
All around Alexandra, about 150 volunteers hauled dirt, wielded shovels and planted native shrubs as they began transforming the hard-packed courtyard at Telfair Elementary School into a 5,000-square-foot oasis.
The garden of native plants - which the experts at the nonprofit group TreePeople selected because they entice butterflies and hummingbirds - is designed to serve as an outdoor science laboratory. And over the next few months, sod and oak trees will replace asphalt, creating a parklike setting for the school's 1,000 students.
"We have high expectations for our kids and high expectations for creating an environment where they can learn," said Principal Alfonso Jimenez, taking a break from the backbreaking work of installing paving stones.
Organizers said they hope the community project will provide the Telfair community not only with badly needed green space, but with a renewed spirit.
Telfair was the home school of Paul Chapel, a former teacher who pleaded no-contest to molesting 13 of his students over the last several years. He is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison.
"Something sad happened here, but we can show our strength," said school board member Nury Martinez, who organized the face-lift.
"Negativity is not in our vocabulary. We want to push forward and make sure our children have something to be inspired by."
The community project was funded through a grant from Starbucks, with Marathon Sod donating the landscaping materials and TreePeople providing the expertise. Many of the volunteers were from those organizations, while others poured in from the neighborhood.
"I feel I have a responsibility to help take care of the school," said Armando Martinez, who also volunteers in the kindergarten class of his 5-year-old daughter, Eilene. "I'm trying to make a difference and do something positive for her."