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Cowells kindergarten playground facelift
Manteca High senior Logan Newcomb of Scout Troop 432 shows the ladybug rock he painted during as a kindergartener at Joshua Cowell School. In the background is part of the newly improved landscaping of the kindergarten playground which was recently completed by the Scouts and their families. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Scout Troop 432 of Manteca was looking for a community project.

Joshua Cowell Elementary School’s kindergarten play area was in need of a facelift.

The two converged and, today, the Cougars’ campus has a freshly laid out landscaping waiting for the 5-year-olds who will be starting school for the first time in August.

The old landscaping around the kindergarten playground was one whose time has come for improvement. Describing what he saw the first time he laid his eyes on it, Scout Logan Newcomb said there was “nothing uniform that looked like a landscape.” The old bushes looked tired. And the 17 years’ worth of painted rocks that were the handiwork of all the kindergarten students who attended Joshua Cowell School during that span of time were just haphazardly strewn about around the youngsters’ play area.

It was school-improvement time.

Here’s how the Scouts tackled the job with the help of their family members.

First, they completely cleared the landscaped section around the kindergarten play area. They started on a clean slate, so to speak.

To begin with, they collected all of the painted rocks and set them aside.

“They were spread out all over the place. Some of them were buried under the ground and we had to dig them out. We stacked them in the corner” at one end of the landscape strip, Newcomb said.

With the painted rocks all removed, the volunteers then pulled the old plants – all 17 of them – out of the ground. Some found new homes in other parts of the campus. But the ones that did not have a prayer growing back and could not be salvaged ended up as green waste.

Replacing the old bushes were 34 escallonias. These are versatile evergreen plants which can be grown as a bush, in a container, or in a rockery landscaping. In contrast to the ones that the Scouts removed which were of the non-flowering variety, escallonias when in bloom produce small and delicate pink flowers.

A blooming mature agapanthus or Lily of the Nile and a thick stand of day lily were moved and replanted to go with the meandering landscaping design that hugs the safety fence around the kindergarten playground. “We needed some filler plants,” explained Newcomb as to why they kept these two plantings.

The ground was then covered with black bark which does double duty as mulch for the plants and for aesthetic purposes. The groundcover was donated by Ed’s Rockery on East Lathrop Road in Manteca.

After shopping around for the best prices, the Scouts decided to go to Stan and Bev’s Nursery on Prescott Avenue which gave them the “best price” for the plants that the group needed, Newcomb said.

Finally, with the mulch and plants all in place, the volunteers started placing the rocks on the black bark. Newcomb came up with the meandering design which made the rocks look like a dry riverbed flowing through the black groundcover. Midpoint of the flowing rock, where a shady evergreen tree stands, the rocks break in half like water passing through an obstruction, then converge again on either side of the tree.

Newcomb placed wooden stakes on the ground which acted as a guide for the volunteers who laid down the rocks.

“Surprisingly, everything went fast,” Newcomb said of the manpower that went into the entire project.

They expected it to be completed in four days, but the group ended up finishing it in one-and-a-half days “when you add up the hours,” explained Newcomb.

 “A lot of (of the work involved), at the beginning, was my family,” he said. “Then we got the troop out on Saturday.”

Their goal was to make the school look inviting and welcoming for the young kindergarten students starting school for the first time, Newcomb said.

Cowell School Principal Bonnie Bennett said that was exactly what she had in mind when she came up with this second project idea for Scout Troop 432 after she was contacted by the group for an Eagle Scout community project.

Her first suggestion involved work being done indoors. But it was her second idea which received enthusiastic response from the Scouts – improving the kindergarten playground – because it required working outdoors.

The other Scout volunteers who worked on the Joshua Cowell School project, besides Newcomb, were John, Brendan, Adam, Andrew, Ethan, Isaias, John, Anthony, and Michael. The Scouts’ family members who provided extra muscle to get the job done included Lori, Don,Tom, Kristi, Kelly, Treas, and Jordan.

On an interesting note, Newcomb had a good reason to approach Principal Bennett for his Scout troop’s Eagle Scout project. He attended elementary at Joshua Cowell before he went on to Manteca High where he is currently a senior.

And he still remembered the rock that he painted when he was in kindergarten. It did not take him long to find it either when they started working on the landscaping. It was a ladybug rock, and the colors survived the test of time.

Bennett said the rock-painting project has become a tradition for all kindergarteners attending Joshua Cowell School. Each piece of painted rock represents every kindergarten student who has attended the school for the last 17 years, she said.

Ladybug’s Quilts in Manteca steps up to help Scouts’ project

The Scouts are now trying to raise about $900 to cover the expenses that they incurred in their landscaping project at Joshua Cowell. Helping them come up with the money is Ladybug’s Quilts on North Main Street in Manteca. Veteran quilter Sandy Newcomb made a quilt which she donated for a drawing that will be held Saturday, July 21. Donation for the fund-raiser is $1 for one ticket, or $5 for six tickets. Sandy is Scout Newcomb’s aunt.

Tickets are available at the Ladybug’s Quilts, located in the commercial strip behind Straw Hat Pizza and across Lancaster Drive off of North Main from the old Longs Drugs shopping center. Tickets are also available at the dental office of Pamela Andrews at 132 North Grant Avenue just across the street from the MRPS Hall where Newcomb’s mother, Kristina, works.

Boy Scout Troop #432 is sponsored by Calvary Community Church on East Lathrop Road in Manteca. The Scoutmaster is John McGill.