By Kim Underwood
Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools
OCTOBER 25, 2013 – The other day, Spencer Ballus was standing in front of Diggs-Latham Elementary after school. As teachers on the way to their cars realized who he was, they stopped to tell him how much students and adults alike appreciated his beautification project.
Thanks to Spencer’s Eagle Scout service project, one of the brick walls at the front of Diggs-Latham is adorned with four colorful metal cutouts that depict drama, music, dance and art. Metal benches with a butterfly design serve as the centerpiece of two garden areas that have been planted with flowers and set with stepping stones. Spencer and his team also spruced up a third garden area.
All of which has considerably brightened the look of the school.
“It’s wonderful,” fourth-grade teacher Beth Sapp said to Spencer. “The kids brag about when they get to sit on your benches. You set such a good example.”
“That was so sweet and considerate,” said Julissa Knight, an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. “It creates a sense of caring for the school.”
Fifth-grade teacher Beth Bostian talked about how the project shows students that they can make a difference in the community.
After Spencer, who is an eighth-grader at Hanes Magnet School, decided that he wanted to focus on a beautification project at a school, he approached several schools that he thought might be well-served by such a project.
“I wanted my project to have the biggest impact it could,” he said.
Diggs-Latham is a magnet school that focuses on the arts and global studies. Principal Donna Cannon got right back to him. “I thought it was a wonderful idea,” Cannon said. “Part of my vision here is to get the community involved….Our school is all about the arts and it’s all about community involvement.”
She invited Spencer to come talk about the possibilities. Some posters on a front wall that proclaimed Diggs-Latham connection to the arts had seen better days. Replacing those with something livelier seemed a good place to start. They also talked about creating a new garden area in front of that wall, making improvements to an already existing memorial garden area under a nearby tree and enhancing a third garden area.
“He was so articulate and organized,” Cannon said.
On a weekend earlier this month, Spencer – along with family members and four other Scouts from Troop 719 in Lewisville – went to work. The other Scouts were Duncan Hickman, who goes to Reagan High School; his younger brother, Isaac Hickman, who goes to Meadowlark Middle; Connor Fodel who goes to Jefferson Middle, and Jake Reilly who goes to Paisley IB Magnet School. Jake’s younger sister, Taylor, who goes to Meadowlark Elementary, also pitched in, along with Spencer’s grandparents and uncle.
“It was wonderful,” said Spencer, referring to all the help he received. He estimates that, by the end of the day, about 200 people hours had been invested in the project.
When school dismissed on the Friday before the work day, Cannon had told everyone to be on the lookout for a surprise when they returned on Monday. Everyone was delighted to see the transformation. Many found the emblems on the wall particularly striking, Cannon said. “They felt that really helped people understand what our school is about.”
In the days since, students have been sitting on the butterfly benches every chance they get.
Students in Linda Wright’s third-grade class wrote thank-you notes to Spencer. In his card, Daishaun Handy wrote, “You have done a wonderful job. If you were here right now, I would hug you.”
It was the students’ idea to write the notes, Wright said. “I am very fortunate to have a classroom full of caring students. When they listened to Mrs. Cannon (on the morning announcements) talk about the wonderful changes to the outside of our building, they wanted to know who did it and how we could say thank you. They voted whether to make cards or a poster. Cards won!...Thanks to Spencer our students have another great reason to be proud of their school.”
Looking through the cards, Spencer said, “These are beautiful.”
“You are a celebrity at our school,” Cannon said.
Spencer put a lot of work not only into the beautification project itself but also into raising the necessary money. With the help of fellow Scouts and family members, he organized and put on a Greek dinner at his church – Lewisville United Methodist – that, after expenses, raised $2,200 dollars.
Spencer is the son of Tom and Paige Ballus. His younger brother, Reed, goes to Meadowlark Elementary. To place the stepping stones in the gardens at just the right distance for elementary students, he asked Reed to take steps in the gardens.
Spencer’s mother downplayed her role in everything, saying that, mostly, she was the person who drove Spencer around. “I want people to know that he was driven to do this project himself,” Paige Ballus said. “He was committed and got it done, and we are very proud of him.”
Spencer, 13, envisions becoming a marine biologist. For now, he studies the fish in his 25-gallon aquarium. At school, he is a member of the Technology Student Association. A dragster that he designed and built last year won first place in its category at the association’s regional competition. This summer, he is joining a group from Hanes that is headed to the Galapagos Islands.
Spencer thought it was important to mention the businesses that participated, in part because they offered discounts to help support the project. The metal cutouts were made by Nordfab Ducting in Thomasville to fabricate the comedy/tragedy masks that represent drama, a treble clef to represent music, a ballerina to represent dance and an artist’s palate and brush to represent art. Tarheel Powder Coating in Greensboro painted them in bright colors. The butterfly benches came from Plow & Hearth and most of the rest of it came from Lowe’s home improvement. Lowes foods and ChefSmart helped with the supplies for the dinner.
The people in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools who maintain school grounds also helped with the project, Cannon said.
In the end, the project cost about $1,000. On Tuesday, Spencer presented Cannon with a check for the remaining $1,200 to use however she wanted to help the school.
“It will go right back to the kids,” Cannon said.