By Martie Thompson

On a beautiful afternoon in mid-May, PVPV Rawlings Elementary School hosted a reception to officially open the Kathleen Furness Turtle Terrace on the school’s campus. The project, originally envisioned by Furness, the well-loved PVPV Rawlings principal who retired last year, is located adjacent to the cafeteria in a space that was previously unused. New principal Catherine Van Housen oversaw the completion of the project and had the idea to dedicate the space to Furness.

“The minute I heard about the project last summer, I said of course it has to be called the Kathleen Furness Turtle Terrace,” Van Housen said.

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Furness attended the opening ceremony with her family. She said she hoped that teachers, families and students would enjoy the space for years to come.

“I’m so touched,” Furness said. “The Turtle Terrace is even better than I imagined. The school holds a big piece of my heart and this is actually a bit overwhelming.”

Featuring engraved pavers that the school’s PTO sold as a fundraiser to help finance the project and concrete tables with brightly colored umbrellas to shield students from the Florida sun, the Turtle Terrace has been eagerly anticipated by teachers and students alike.

Plans are for the space to be used as an outdoor learning area for teachers’ special projects as well as a place where children and their visiting parents may eat lunch outdoors. Van Housen said that the area could also be used as an outdoor eating area that students could earn as a reward.

Emily Stephens, president of the school’s PTO, said, “I think the most important part of the design is the sea turtle mosaic. Our art teachers, Barbara Stroer and Kim Scribner, had each student in the school create a clay turtle that was then fired and glazed. The teachers plus some volunteers then mounted the turtles on the walls.”

Van Housen said a special glue had to be found so that the 1,000 colorful sea turtles could remain stuck to the wall through the outdoor elements. Stephens said that already a favorite pastime of students is looking for their individual turtle within the design on the wall.

The project required many hands to complete. School community partner Coastal Luxury Outdoors installed the pavers and after the tables ordered by the PTO were delivered to the school, they were installed by the school’s maintenance department. Stephens, who has a second grader and a fourth grader at the school, said it has been an ongoing project all year.

“The best part is it beautifies the space,” Stephens said. “It is very child centered and since they helped create this bright and cheery space, I believe they will take ownership of it.”

Photos by Martie Thompson

PVPV Rawlings Principal Catherine Van Housen with retired PVPV Rawlings principal Kathleen Furness.

Each student in the school created a sea turtle for the mosaic.

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