Under sunny but chilly morning conditions Friday, March 22, a group of Junior Beta Club members at Carpenters Middle School used their hands in the dirt to leave an impression long after they move on.

The eighth-graders, with the help of Keep Blount Beautiful, the Blount County Soil Conservation District and Blount County Master Gardeners, put St. John’s wort in the ground at the school’s entrance. Seventh-graders came out to help as well, as redbud trees were also part of this beautification project. All of the students who participated are in Carpenters Middle School’s Junior Beta Club.

Brittney Whipple is KBB’s executive director. She said this endeavor is part of KBB’s Kids Keep Blount Beautiful program. “We try to do this once a year at local middle schools,” she said.

It was all made possible because of a grant from the UPS Foundation, Whipple said. In addition to Carpenters Middle, another Blount County middle school, Eagleton, has done a similar landscaping project.

Whipple said the space will be used for an outdoor classroom, complete with plaque and identifying information about each planting. Once KBB helpers and others have left, it will be up to the students to keep the plants thriving, she said. In all, 32 plants are being added to the Carpenters Middle campus.

On hand Friday morning was Master Gardener Corinne D’Apprile. She has been a Master Gardener for a short while, but has worked on other projects like the Shakespeare Garden at the Blount County Public Library and the orchard at Maryville College. She said it’s vital young people learn about care of the environment.

“I have always loved gardening,” D’Apprile said. “I have been planting here and there for 50 years.”

Mason Denman, an intern for KBB came out prepared to shovel, plant and mulch the new plants. A student at Maryville College, he hopes to work in the field of environmental studies, his major. That can include anything from being an environmental consultant to a park ranger, he said.

Whipple and Julie Konkel of the Blount County Soil Conservation District, helped choose which plants would be appropriate for this setting. Ben Teaster, an intern for the Blount County Soil Conservation District, was present to lend his extra set of hands, too.

“The purpose of the grant, since it was KBB, is to beautify the campus,” said Konkel. “We also took the opportunity to select trees and shrubs that were native to show off native species to students. We also tried to pick something that has some wildlife or educational value.”

St. John’s wort is a beautiful yellow, while redbuds are a vibrant pink. Konkel said redbuds do well in poor soils, which schools typically have because of construction.

“We know they do well, they flower and have great color,” Konkel said. “The redbud is also a nitrogen fixer. It helps improve the soil quality over time.”

Other plantings around this campus includes additional sycamore and fringe trees. Beautyberry is also being added.

Abby Barron, vice-president of Junior Beta, said this was her first time planting shrubs. She volunteered while others chose to remain in class.

“I like helping out in the community,” she said. “This will make our campus pretty for people to see as they drive by.” Lucy George also volunteered for this outdoor work. She said it wasn’t so hard because of the eagerness of all working together.

Junior Beta Club sponsor Hannah Turner was lending a hand as her club picked up shovels, dug down into the soil and placed the shrubs inside. Pam Carico and Kendra Payne are also sponsors.

Turner said there are about 80 members of Beta Club. Membership is limited to those students who maintain grades above a C. She said there will be a team assembled to make sure the plants thrive, which includes watering.

“We are hoping the spring rains continue,” Turner said. “I can’t wait until they start growing and our kids can see what they have helped provide.”

Whipple was confident the project is in good hands. “This is theirs,” she said, pointing to the students. “They will be in charge.”

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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