Nicole Gartner, 17, spent time Wednesday afternoon watering a tree in the Lawrence High School courtyard.
The coral bark Japanese maple is dedicated to her friend, 17-year-old Uryan Rampersaud, of Inwood, who died of heart complications in December.
“He was known as the giving tree, and he gave and gave and gave and never stopped giving, so we immediately thought of this,” said Gartner, of Atlantic Beach. “Truly his heart was too big for his body and because realistically that’s how he passed away, his heart couldn’t support his body.”
The courtyard is also home to two other trees which memorialize members of the high school community who’ve died -- special education teacher Dave Kerner, 51, and student Crystal Gayle, 17.
A group of 15 students from the environmental club and science classes are transforming the once vacant and unkempt area into a landscaped courtyard with a fully functional, student-run greenhouse. During their free time, students water the trees and dig up the ground to make way for a future walkway to lead up to the trees.
The high school’s student government purchased the $11,000 greenhouse which is made of layered polycarbonate plastic walls for insulation with built-in heater and ventilation fans.
The students plan to hold a May 8 ceremony unveiling the greenhouse and rejuvenated courtyard with memorial plaques at the base of each tree.
Adam Forman, 36, a science teacher and environmental club advisor, said Kerner would pay out of his own pocket for students to go on educational fishing trips.
“He was a good guy,” Forman said. “He was a down to earth kind of guy and did a lot for his students. He helped the special ed kids grow plants and sell them for mother’s day.”
Forman and Robert Verone, a ceramics teacher at the high school, spearheaded the courtyard’s revitalization efforts about a month ago and are helping students plan for building the greenhouse.
Forman said it’s important for all students to have the greenhouse to learn more about agriculture and business. In the past, students used to grow plants in the classroom to sell, he said.
“Since he died, we haven’t had an applicable program like that, so we’d like to bring that back,” Forman said.
The foundation of the greenhouse will be constructed and stabilized this week with the help of the Lowe’s Heroes Volunteer program, Forman said.
In addition to the Village of Cedarhurst’s donation of mulch, the home improvement store is also donating tables, water hoses, herbs, plants and flowers.
High school senior Madalyn Forte, 17, and other students envision the greenhouse to have hanging baskets of petunias and begonias, tiers of plants on tables leaning against the greenhouse walls and a dedicated herb area.
She said, once the greenhouse is permanently intact, students want to use what they learned in science class to come up with the best method to water the plants. Students plan to use drip irrigation, applying the right amount of water to each plant through small holes in a PVC pipe.
“Not only will our special education students get skills out of this, but we can do other demonstrations with other classes,” Forte said, “This is going to be a way to demonstration how we can keep our environment living well while sustaining ourselves.”