CMS garden will grow educational opportunities

Published 1:02 am Friday, February 19, 2021

By SASHA JOHNS / Community Columnist

Olivia Snyder is in her first year of teaching at Columbiana Middle School. As the oldest daughter of Shelby County High School Principal Barbara Snyder and Elvin Hill Elementary paraprofessional John Snyder, she is no stranger to the work and time that educators have to put in. In fact, it was volunteering with her father over the years that helped her decide on her career path as a special needs educator.

“I remember telling my dad that I wished that I could do what he did,” she said, “and he basically reminded me that there was no reason that I couldn’t.”

Columbiana Middle School student Breanna Erwin is one of Olivia Snyder’s students that loves working in the school’s courtyard butterfly garden. (Contributed)

This year that dream came true as she is now the third Snyder to work in the Columbiana school system, by working as the second teacher in the newly expanded Triple-A (Alabama Alabama Assessment) self-contained classroom at CMS.

Snyder said, “So often these kids get looked over, but they are far more capable of doing great things than people think they are.” This became evident when her students were asked if they would like to be responsible for watering the butterfly garden in the courtyard of the school this year.

Snyder’s students loved this tasked and begged for opportunities to work in the garden, but Snyder saw a bigger opportunity. As her students move on from CMS, they will eventually become students of Marisol Lilly’s Working Wildcat program at the high school. The Working Wildcats have become a model school for the H.O.P.E. Garden project, which teaches the older students job and life skills. Snyder realized the butterfly garden was a great opportunity to prepare her students to become Working Wildcats as they left middle school.

The garden requires some work to take advantage of that opportunity, however—a little more than they can do on their own. Snyder has set up a campaign to raise $1,000 for the supplies they need to clean up and add plantings to the garden and has also organized a cleanup day through Church of the Highlands on Feb. 27 from 3-8 p.m. to prepare the space so that students can begin learning just in time for spring.

Already the kids are learning about butterflies and pollinators through a national STEM program. They started out learning about monarchs, but that has grown to plans for a full program to attract and raise all kinds of butterflies and other beneficial garden bugs. The garden will not only have plantings that attract butterflies but herbs that will also bring other “good critters.”

“Just the planning alone has already given my students a sense of leadership and belonging within the school. They feel a sense of strong ownership already from their work in the space. This project will only feed that,” Snyder shared.

If you would like to contribute to the My School Bucks campaign, just visit and search for Columbiana Middle School garden project. To volunteer on the cleanup day on Feb. 27, reach out to Olivia Snyder by email at