Initiative protects planet, teaches kids

May 27, 2011 (CHICAGO)

Leave it to an educator to find a way to protect the planet while giving students hands-on learning experiences. Leiana Gary is a speech pathologist in the Chicago Public Schools system. She is passionate about her students, her community and the environment.

"It's a blessing to watch the children take pride in something that will be lasting for quite a while," Leiana Gary, president, Cottage Grove Planters Society, said.

She combined her great loves in 2009 when she started the Cottage Grove Planters Project. Gary had been complaining about the abundance of trash and blight along the busy corridor. In tribute to her late mother, she decided to use her own money to bring life to the long dormant planters between 79th and 91st streets -- 26 in all.

"One Saturday, I got a call early saying Gwen I need your help. Come over here and so I came and there she was at a planter digging," Gwendolyn St. Julian, Cottage Grove Planters Society.

Gary didn't stop after recruiting her close friend and co-worker. She enlisted students from 25 area schools.

"We're trying to make our neighborhood look a little better than it already does and make our environment look like a really safe place," said Dinah Bradley, 5th grade, Arthur Dixon School.

"It was a lot of hard work, but it paid off," Niamiah Bartlett, 5 th grade, Arthur Dixon School, said.

The students also are seeing firsthand how nature works.

"I've learned how they grow with a process called photosynthesis and then they use energy from the sun and water that makes sugars that helps feed them so they can grow," Mahmuud Thomas, 5th grade, Arthur Dixon School, said.

The students created artwork that adorns the planters and shows school pride.

"We put the name of our school and a kind of speech on the other side because we wanted people to come around and see the planters," Julian Starks, 5th grade, said. Organizers say it also invokes community pride.

"I think having the school children's names on the side helps because someone is bound to see someone's name that they know. If it's not a family member, it's a child on their block," Gary said.

Cottage Grove Planters Society volunteers help on Saturdays, as well as on Memorial Day. Learn how you can help at

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