Columbus State University Thickens the Plot at St. Mary’s Elementary School

ECHO GardenCOLUMBUS, Ga. — An empty plot of land that sits between the gymnasium and the library at a local elementary school in Columbus, Georgia will be transformed into an outdoor classroom and literacy garden that will provide a space for students to grow their love for learning, thanks to the work of a group of early childhood education majors from Columbus State University.

CSU’s Early Childhood Organization (ECHO) will break ground on the Literacy Garden at St. Mary’s Elementary School on St. Mary’s Road Saturday at 10 a.m. Students and volunteers will add new trees, bushes, flowerbeds, reading teepees and a gardening area to the barren 3,500-square-foot space that used to house a classroom trailer.

The garden also will feature displays based on popular children’s books such as The Giving Tree, The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Charlotte’s Web.

“We wanted to create an imaginative place for children to read and learn,” said James Hartman, president of ECHO and senior early childhood education major.

“The garden will be a great space for students to construct their own knowledge and build new learning experiences,” said Shytara Fields, ECHO’s vice president and junior early childhood education major.

ECHO has raised nearly $1,000 to fund the construction project through GoFundMe, a crowdfunding website (, a bake sale and faculty and staff donations.

“We must recognize and thank ECHO’s board members for their hard work, enthusiasm and time dedicated to this project as well as the CSU faculty, staff and administrators who have cheered us on,” said Ekaterina Strekalova-Hughes, ECHO’s faculty sponsor and assistant professor of early childhood education. “If this garden is a success, it is because of these people.”

ECHO is a student organization on campus with more than 20 active members that seek to make a positive impact on the education of children in local and global communities. Membership is open to all CSU students.

For more information about ECHO or the Literacy Garden, contact Hartman at or visit