Longtime secretary Elly Dahler shows how much she cares about Vista View Elementary not just through waves and welcomes during the school year — she also demonstrates it through her weeding and watering over the summer.
For Dahler, the Burnsville school's secretary for 26 years, maintaining both the front and back gardens is a labor of love. During the school year, she heads up the school beautification team. Over the summer, she spends her own time — about five hours a week — making sure the flowers, vegetables and trees look their best.
"I'm proud of Vista View, and I want it to show," Dahler said. "Not just inside but on the outside as well."
The gardens "just make everything so welcoming," she added.
Dahler has been caring for the front gardens, filled mostly with perennials like lilies, daisies and hosta, for a decade, with her husband and granddaughter helping out.
Creating garden areas on either side of the front sidewalk was a project of a previous principal, who wanted to have a welcoming entrance. Before that, "Our front entrance was really sad," Dahler said, with just trees and a fence. A landscaper came and selected plants that would thrive there and come back annually, she said.
After that, Dahler, who also tends gardens at her mother's house, in her own yard and at her lake home, was a natural to maintain the area. "I've learned to kind of work it into my routine," she said.
"Elly works really hard to make sure that first impression is a positive one," said Lynn Rhinevault, first-grade teacher at Vista View. "I'll drive past [during the summer] and see her out there as well. It's never-ending."
Dahler, along with Rhinevault and some students, also helps water and weed the five "learning gardens" in the back of the school during the summer. Beginning in 2009, Rhinevault and others planted vegetable and butterfly gardens, which Rhinevault uses to teach hands-on lessons.
The gardens "are also used for positive reinforcement. There are lots of kids who can't wait to get their work done so they can help Miss Elly with her weeding," Rhinevault said.
In the spring and fall, teachers take kids out to read among the flowers and plants, Rhinevault said.
Dahler said that seeing the positive effect her work has on the community is what motivates her.
"It is so rewarding," Dahler said. "It just makes it all worthwhile when I see kids walk by the garden and they're so respectful."