Heritage Elementary School gifted class science teacher Jean Josephson had an idea to plant a beautiful butterfly garden at her school, but needed some helping hands to bring that project to life.

She got more than she bargained for when she reached out through a friend to Scouts BSA (formerly called the Boy Scouts of America) Troop 148, which meets at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church on Cross Creek Blvd., just down the street from the school.

That’s when she connected with Isaac VanMeter, a senior at Wharton High, who is on track to become an Eagle Scout and was thinking about ideas for a project to help him reach his goal. 

The butterfly garden project seemed like a perfect fit.

“I had other ideas, but I really like helping with the environment,” says Isaac, who adds that the school beautification aspect appealed to him, as well. “Having a really nice-looking school is good for students, and it’s great for the entire school to have a garden to play in and learn in.”

Jean says Isaac took her idea and ran with it. 

“He did a really, really good job,” she says. “It really exceeded my expectations. I thought I would have to do more planning and directing, but he took control of the whole project.”

While the school already had a vegetable garden and a small butterfly garden, it also had a butterfly mural and space for a much bigger garden to be used for instructional purposes, such as studying the life cycle of butterflies.

Teachers bring students out to the garden to release butterflies raised in the classroom, or to watch worms or bees. They use a curriculum from a nonprofit educational organization called “Agriculture in the Classroom” to bring the lessons to life.

Jean explains that some resources for which plants would work in the garden and how to plant it came from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS), but Isaac did the fundraising to pay for it and did additional research, making the final selections for what would go in the garden and how it would be laid out.

He brought a team of Scouts out for a workday to make it all happen.

“The soil was so bad that they had to build it up with about seven yards of soil,” explains Jean, “Then, they replaced the edging, put the plants in, mulched the garden, gave it a good watering, and they also mulched the whole courtyard. It was really great.”

Isaac’s next steps are to finish his paperwork and the last three of the 21 required merit badges before his 18th birthday in January. Then, he’ll go before a Board of Review to make his case for why he should be awarded the rank of Eagle Scout.

“This is a big accomplishment,” Isaac says, “something I’ve been working toward for six years.”

Before and after.

Isaac completed the project during his first season playing varsity football, while his team went on a playoff run. He decided to try football his senior year, in addition to competing for Wharton in lacrosse and track and field — throwing discus, javelin and shotput — in previous years.

After graduation, he plans to go to college on a Florida Bright Futures Scholarship — likely at the University of Central Florida in Orlando — and major in finance.

“I really think the whole process of (Scouts) BSA has changed me to be more of a leader and have that mindset of how I can help encourage everyone around me,” he says. “The project taught me how everyone can come together to accomplish things.”

He says he’s pleased with the way the garden turned out and is looking forward to seeing how the plants grow and fill in the garden over time.

Jean says the teachers and the entire school community are thrilled with the opportunities they see for learning in the new garden.

“Everybody is so impressed,” she says. “I can’t wait until it all grows up.”

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