An outdoor classroom at Greenbrier Elementary School was dedicated Monday to a teacher and pupil who passed away earlier this year.
Friends and family of fourth-grade teacher Traci Dudley and 10-year-old Gabriel James Wilkie attended the ceremony to honor and remember their loved ones.
Dudley, who died from breast cancer in July, will be remembered by future pupils at Greenbrier Elementary who take classes in the Traci Dudley Outdoor Education Center.
That is just the way Dudley would want to be honored, said Greenbrier Elementary Principal Judy Holton.
As a former Teacher of the Year at the school, Dudley urged her pupils “to believe in themselves and in their dreams,” Holton said to the dozens of pupils and parents attending the dedication ceremony at the classroom in front of the school.
“She helped to make our school a better place. ... She taught us what it was to never give up,” Holton said.
“I have never seen a group of people pour out so much love when my daughter was sick,” Dudley’s mother, Therisa, said prior to cutting a ribbon to officially open the classroom.
Gabe, a fourth-grader, died in October after a bout with leukemia.
David Wilkie, Gabe’s father, recalled a similar show of support when his son was diagnosed with cancer about four years ago.
One day, Wilkie said, Gabe came home from school with a stack of messages from pupils and teachers at Greenbrier Elementary offering their help and encouragement.
Gabe’s mother, Christine, called it fate that her family moved to Evans so her son could attend such a caring school as Greenbrier Elementary during his illness.
Holton recalled Gabe’s dedication to learning and determination to continue living his life, saying he often attended school “when he could barely hold his head up.”
As a symbol of perseverance, school officials dedicated Gabe’s Garden as part of the outdoor classroom. Holton said pupils will use the garden to plant flowers and vegetables.
“This is a happy place ... (where) new life grants us hope,” Holton said.
The outdoor classroom, featuring a small pond and gardens, was built by the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization a decade ago.
Later, the irrigation system broke and the area devolved into an eyesore once the pond dried up, vegetation died, and other plants overgrew, according to a letter from PTO Outdoor Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Overstreet.
About two years ago, the PTO refurbished the outdoor classroom and it now is used to teach lessons on water, the sun, weather, geology and biology across all grade levels.