Environmental Science Center & Sylvester honor Elizabeth Juarez with pathway


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Burien’s Environmental Science Center (ESC) recently collaborated with Sylvester Middle School – specifically Katelen Phelan’s class – to design and build a pollinator pathway to serve as a memorial for the late Elizabeth Juarez.

As many of our Readers may recall, Elizabeth was a 13-year old Sylvester student who was tragically killed along with Eveona Cortez in a gang-related shooting in March.

“The initial project was for students to engage in environmental stewardship through the build of a pollinator pathway,” said Katelen Phelan, 8th grade science teacher at Sylvester. “In an unexpected way, the pollinator garden was far more personal for students. The loss of Eli in March struck Sylvester students to the core. Students made a temporary memorial site and held a vigil for Eli in another garden on campus and began visiting that space daily.”

Phelan said that while she was finalizing the pollinator pathway garden plans with ESC, she requested the new garden be a permanent memorial for Eli.

Phelan’s five eighth-grade science classes were responsible for much of the labor. They contributed by moving soil, adding mulch, planting starts, pulling weeds, picking up litter, creating signs, watering, and noting the native plants found on our school grounds.

“The students worked hard throughout the day, with each class completing the next phase of the restoration,” said Kelly Steffen, Salmon Heroes Coordinator and Naturalist at ESC. “Everyone came together and were so proud of what they had accomplished, and the students even set up a watering schedule for the remainder of the year.”

It was a true grassroots effort, with supplies and help coming from many community members. The Nature Stewards Program donated several plants for the project. Another Sylvester teacher brought in a potted plant from his garden. Even Burien Bark gave a discount on the materials they brought. ESC’s Kelly Steffen donated a garden bench that the students refurbished.

All of the work culminated in a dedication and plaque mounting ceremony, where Sylvester students and Eli’s family and friends came together to declare the space as “Eli’s Garden.” Phelan said that they asked Eli’s family for exact words for a memorial plaque, and that Eli’s friends affixed it to the refurbished bench.

“The ceremony was beautiful,” said Joanna Stodden, Programs Manager at ESC. “It really underscored how many lives Eli had touched.”

“In the end, this garden promotes both environmental and community stewardship,” said Phelan. “For when we take care of one another, we build a more hopeful world.”​​​​​​

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