Students build memorial garden for teacher who died of COVID-19

The garden beds will be completed on Nov. 16 — Ward’s birthday.
Written by: Anne Heaney
Media contact: Adam Pope

Memorial Garden The garden beds will be completed on Nov. 16 — Ward’s birthday.Teachers, students and community members in Bessemer, Alabama, recently began construction on a memorial garden to honor former Charles F. Hard Elementary teacher Karen Ward, who passed away from COVID-19 in September.

The memorial garden is an initiative of Bessemer Building Healthy Communities, the Obesity Health Disparities Research Center, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham's Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center.

Ward served as camp director for the Healthy Happy Hard Summer Camp, an OHDRC and MHRC initiative, held at the school.

Her vision for the summer camp was to extend it into the school year. That will become a reality under the leadership of Clarissa Barrett, summer camp co-director and third-grade teacher at Hard Elementary. Beginning January 2022, Barrett will lead an after-school program that focuses on continuing the education of a healthy lifestyle for the students.

“Ms. Ward started several programs to instill healthy values in her students, so it is fitting to use this memorial garden as a way for students to understand where their fresh food comes from,” said Erin Carley, LMSW, educational liaison for the UAB MHRC.

One of Ward’s missions as an educator was to give children a healthy outlet for expression, such as painting and gardening. She also taught her students that healthy eating and education go hand in hand.

“Ms. Ward wanted to make sure the kids were taken care of at every level: academic, social and basic needs. She wanted them to understand how choosing healthy food to eat, getting proper sleep and taking care of yourself would help you academically,” Barrett said.

According to Hard Elementary Principal Armentress D. Robinson, Ph.D., the nearest grocery store is not within walking distance of the community, which makes this garden very important to students and their families.

Children will plant winter vegetables such as arugula, iceberg lettuce and cabbage in the 10 raised garden beds. This will show the students firsthand where their food comes from — a concept Ward wanted to incorporate into her curriculum.

“Certain foods promote healthy brains. If students are not eating healthy, you can’t expect their brains to be healthy,” Robinson said. “It’s all connected — how we eat and what we eat are connected to what we learn and how we learn.” 

The garden beds will be completed on Nov. 16 — Ward’s birthday.

“People know if you have a genuine love and concern for them, and Ms. Ward was that kind of person. Just as much as she was firm, she was caring,” Robinson said. “She knew how to balance the two.”