Out of tragedy sprang new life. At least that’s the way some view the Aleana Johnson Memorial Garden at Westmont Elementary School.
When 5-year-old Aleana Johnson was struck and killed by a school bus in January 2001, it sparked her school family to create a lasting memorial to the kindergartner.
“Smiles, pride, warm greetings and thoughtfulness were some of the characteristics of Aleana,” said Barbara Guillory, Aleana’s kindergarten teacher, who still teaches at the school. “I’m honored to have known and shared in the educational aspect of Aleana’s life.”
Snow had begun to fall around noon the day of the accident, and young Aleana had written just that morning about a wish to see snow.
“The school day was filled with so much joy and cheerfulness,” said Guillory.
But that joy and cheer soon turned to sadness and grief.
Several people have sought to keep Aleana’s memory alive.
“Several Horizons teachers responded to their students’ suggestions of planning and implementing a garden to honor Aleana,” said Susan Parrott, a retired Horizons teacher who taught at the school at the time of the accident. “Her mother spoke to a group of students about Aleana and her favorite colors and love of butterflies so that we could include plants that would help us remember her.”
Parents and students, local businesses, master gardeners and Cliff Poppell, who donated and installed the sprinkler system for the garden, assisted with the initial project.
Eleven years later, the school and those who help maintain the garden are celebrating Aleana’s life, including a recent ceremony at the school.
Each week, members of the Cherokee Rose Garden Club and others eager to help with the maintenance of the school’s gardens, meet to pull weeds and plant new trees, shrubs and plants. In their own way, each takes their part in the work in Aleana’s garden as a treasured task.
Parrott will move away from the Augusta area soon after having helped maintain the school’s gardens for more than 10 years. Aleana’s garden is one of the projects she will miss the most.
“It is the interest and passion that I will miss most when I move,” she said. “I have truly loved the time I have spent at Westmont caring for all of the gardens, and I know the students and staff appreciate and enjoy the areas we gardeners have maintained over the years.”
Aleana’s garden has become an outdoor classroom of sorts for many teachers.
“The students use the garden to read in,” said second-grade teacher Mary Wilson, who also uses the garden when teaching the life cycle of a caterpillar. “Each year, second-graders release the butterflies in the garden. During our life-cycle study, we use the garden – plants, flowers and trees – for plant life cycles. I also use it as a place to reflect and talk with students when they are having a difficult day. It is very soothing.”