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North Hall Middle School literacy garden dedicated to Sandra Deal
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The Sandra Deal Secret Reading Garden at North Hall Middle School before a dedication ceremony on Thursday. - photo by David Barnes

Georgia first lady Sandra Deal sat in a blue chair under the shade of tree around the backside of North Hall Middle School. She was wearing black pants, a white shirt and a green jacket. She even decided to wear her green Converse shoes to show her appreciation for the garden that was in front of her.

That garden, The Sandra Deal Secret Reading Garden, was dedicated to her on Thursday, June 7, in front of former co-workers, friends and family. As first lady, Deal has been an advocate for literacy — she’s read at schools in every county in Georgia — and said she hopes the garden gives students at the school where she taught an opportunity to learn even more than they do in the classroom.

“I always love being outdoors,” Deal said. “And I just thought it was wonderful for children to have the opportunity to know about nature and to develop an interest in it and protect it and take pride in it, so this was the way we decided to do it.”

David Allen, founding chairman and chairman emeritus of the Georgia Natural Resources Foundation, was the one who funded the garden. After getting to know Deal and working closely with her, he surprised her with a $1,000 check to go toward something that developed Georgia’s natural resources.

She knew she wanted it to go to the North Hall area after being born in Gainesville and teaching in Hall County schools for 15 years. So with some suggestions from her former co-workers at North Hall Middle, she decided to have a reading garden put in. 

“It’s so well done,” Allen said. “I think the children will love it and say they want to go out to Mrs. Deal’s secret garden because there’s secrets out there and they might learn something.”

The garden has dark mulch throughout with a lighter mulch forming paths for students to walk on. There are benches and a couple of chairs to sit and read. There’s a big crepe myrtle for shade near the center of the garden and some rose bushes, hydrangeas, blueberries, peaches and muscadines, too.

There’s even the Sandra Deal Camellia, which was named after her in 2015. It sprouts delicate white flowers during bloom.

“I have been around Mrs. Deal all of my life,” said Morgan Conner, agriculture teacher at North Hall Middle. “It’s really cool to just be able to dedicate something to her that will be here as school goes on. Ten years from now, this garden will still be here.”

Conner, along with the students in her agriculture classes, will maintain the garden as a way to learn and make sure it continues to grow.

Gov. Nathan Deal was there to support his wife and said he’s sure they will be back to visit the garden “quite often.” He and his wife are both excited to see the garden grow and the way students get to use it.

“So many times, the spouses of elected people don’t get the recognition they deserve, and certainly Sandra has been a prime example of a spouse that has stood behind me, and stood with me,” Gov. Deal said. “I’m glad to see that she’s been recognized for it.”