Of the Baker City Herald

Velma Hartley describes herself as andquot;just a grandma.andquot;

And as she interacted with the kindergartners and first-graders at the Haines Elementary School Tuesday, that title became very apparent.

As andquot;just a grandmaandquot; Hartley calmly watched as the little hands of 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds plowed through potting soil, spreading it over the table, the floor and themselves. The children were preparing pots to nestle flower seeds into before sprinkling them with water.

andquot;Seeds need water, but if they get too much water they drown, and that's not good,andquot; Hartley patiently explained as the children squirted their freshly planted seeds and nearby classmates.

Hartley began volunteering at the school five years ago when her own grandson, Kelsey Day, a fourth-grader who will soon be 10, was in kindergarten.

Tuesday the kindergarten and first-grade students were preparing to plant sweet peas, zinnias and bachelor buttons as part of the school's celebration of Earth Week.

The flowers will be used for class projects and to beautify the City of Haines, according to teacher Melissa Garner.

Other Earth Week activities have included lessons on composting brought to the school by Master Gardeners, and work in clay pottery with parent Erin Hansen, a professional potter. Friday the students participated in a town-wide cleanup day. They also are collecting refundable cans and bottles to help raise money to support the school.

The Haines School, in conjunction with the City of Haines, is developing a Children's Peace Park on the north end of town on property that fronts the Cascade Utilities building.

The design for the park is being planned by the students, parents, teachers and other community members, according to Haines Mayor Mary Jane Rose.

andquot;We met with the PTCO (Parent, Teacher, Community Organization) last fall and talked about the need to involve kids in civic activities,andquot; Rose said. andquot;The parents were excited about creating an activity that would allow kids to know their voice will be heard.

andquot;It's really important that these kids know they can make a difference,andquot; she added.

The park will feature benches made with ceramic tiles created by the students with the help of Hansen. Flowers and trees also will be planted.

andquot;The park when it's said and done will be volunteer-based and these parents are really the motivating force behind it,andquot; Rose said.

The city is interested in helping keep the Haines School viable in the community, especially in light of budget reductions at the district level, Rose said.

andquot;We're rolling up our sleeves and doing what we need to do,andquot; she said.