A Tribute to Kay O’Neill
by Sally Selby

When the new green Middle School was built, 24 garden boxes were installed on the roof! What a great idea!

Wait – how in the world could we take on responsibility for 24 garden boxes? We faced the prospect of a resource that no one would take advantage of.

But then we found our angel in the person of Kay O’Neill, retired Middle School teacher and neighbor, who was looking for a way to get involved again in the life of Middle School. Working first with sixth grade homeroom teacher Sandy Dennin, Kay started slowly, but before we knew it, she had adopted the roof of the Middle School as her own classroom space, tending it as carefully as she tended her Middle School students for many years, and bringing her wonderful energy and enthusiasm to the task.

Kay started a club called the “Green Gardeners” in the spring of 2007. With them she helped plant classroom garden boxes, including pea plants, with their buddy classes from Hearst Elementary School across the street. She stayed with it after school was out for the summer, too – coming in every morning throughout the dry summer to water and to add her own touches - a scarecrow, a ceramic rabbit, a garden girl to remind her of her friend and colleague Linda Weiner, in whose memory the garden is dedicated.

As time went on, Kay got to know the peculiarities of a rooftop garden. She watched the plants carefully, did a lot of research, and adapted what she had learned to the harsh environment of the roof. She learned to think about ways to block the sun and wind for some parts of the day and how to find plants that were really drought resistant.

In the fall she unveiled her plans for individuals and groups to plant theme boxes, such as a pizza garden, a Native American garden, a peanut garden, a butterfly garden. Fifth and sixth graders joined her “Green Gardeners,” and she met them on Wednesday and Friday afternoons, helping them plant in the fall for spring crops, and making signs with them to personalize their garden boxes. She loved coming early in the morning to water, and she has not always asked for enough help to get the heavy items up to the roof!

As this spring has bloomed, Kay has added a weeping cherry tree in a container. The whole roof is in bloom! Sixth graders Adam Sachs, Jack Sollee, and Gus Stern have been working on the roof gardens this spring. They say that Mrs. O’Neill is really helpful and that she makes gardening fun. They have enjoyed going up to the roof and watching everything grow this spring, and they say that Mrs. O’Neill is a very good teacher!

Kay is going to take a deserved step back now and others will team with her next fall to work on the gardens, but she will still carry the weekend and some summer watering duties and help us by passing on all that she has learned about the garden. Truly, if it were not for Kay O’Neill who set the stage and got the garden going, we would still be pointing to half-empty boxes and saying that we hope to get garden plots going soon. We owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude!