Judson Shiffler may be gone, but his legacy will live on at West Hempfield Elementary School, which he once attended.
Shiffler, 18, died in 2014 when his car crashed into a hillside following a swim practice. He was captain of the high school swim team and had signed on to swim at West Chester University the following year.
Thanks to a $1,000 donation from Shiffler’s family, students at the elementary school now have an outdoor classroom space, located in a courtyard that sits in the middle of the school.
Completed over the summer with the help of the high school’s 2018-19 STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Math — team, students now have picnic tables, art easels and benches where they can complete classes or spend time doing independent reading outdoors.
“It is so impressive in my view to see a collaborative project such as this take hold,” Matthew Conner, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said during Monday’s board meeting.
“Seeing high school students work hand-in-hand with elementary students and their vision come to life and see it put into place for our students, our future students, to be able to use it — it’s unbelievable,” he said.
Spurred into creating a lasting project to honor Shiffler, and for students at the school, Principal Chris Brasco said he wanted to create some green space.
“We talked about how to best use this courtyard space over at West Hempfield — it was kind of this blank space,” art teacher Matt Clark said. “So, with that (the money), we kicked around the idea of maybe some picnic tables to go out there.”
Designed by the STEM team, the space can hold up the three classes at a time, with learning areas spread across the courtyard. Future renderings for the outdoor area show coverings over the picnic tables for added shade, trees and areas where art projects can be displayed.
Sixth-grade students made a tree mural that will be hung in the courtyard, Clark said. It features handprints from every student in the grade. Clark said school officials hope to add a stone pathway in the future.
Brasco commended district maintenance workers for their help with the project. They built the picnic tables themselves.
“If you look at this space, they did an awesome job, because there’s no access from the outside, so they really had to go above and beyond to get in, get out,” Brasco said.
Additional funds for the courtyard came from the STEM budget, and some project materials were donated by Country Farms Garden Center and Landscape Service in Hempfield.
A beautification process took place in the West Hempfield Middle School courtyard over the summer by sprucing up plants and adding in some pavers, according to the district’s Twitter page.