Walking into Kurt Dillman’s classroom is anything but ordinary; in fact, it is quite extraordinary. Mr. Dillman, the ToK (Theory of Knowledge) teacher at Ronald Reagan IB high school, has created a world populated by fairies, fountains, and fancy within his classroom. Measuring the size of four ping-pong tables, the garden all but overtakes Mr. Dillman’s room. But the students aren’t complaining; pushing the desks a little closer gives room to a fairy world that many students have never experienced: tranquil fountains, an afternoon swing or walks along a pebbled path. But, in Kurt Dillman’s classroom, that world is available to experience and imagine.
Mr. Dillman conceived of the fairy garden two years ago, when after putting away his holiday village, “several students expressed sadness. Some said I should have one for spring. I agreed because spring is a very stressful time of the school year; winter drags on, students have internal assessments and senioritis is at its peak. I wanted to bring some color into the environment, especially some green. I thought having some nature and whimsy would be relaxing.”
The fairy garden consists of 120 fairies, 85 houses, seven fountains and 200 accessories including fences, signs, playground equipment, planters, stepping stones and fairy doors; in addition to “miscellaneous pieces, such as stones, rocks, flowers, bark, pinecones, sand, and other fillers like moss and grass.” It takes approximately 60-70 hours to set up with help from his daughter and “teen grandkids.”
This fairy garden brings a yearning from students to experience this type of imaginative beauty. According to Dillman, “many students say they ‘get lost’ in it. They pick out which house they would like to live in or which fairy represents them. They say the running water of the fountains is relaxing. Some find the garden to be an escape. Some see a Utopian lifestyle that is not completely unrealistic. They see beings living in harmony with nature; not conquering and despoiling it. My students are very environmentally conscious and see the garden as a representation of what could be.”
When purchasing the fairies, Mr. Dillman noticed a problem – all the fairies were white. Kathy Westrich, one of Reagan’s assistant principals, rectified the problem. Using various shades of black and brown, she meticulously hand-painted many of the fairies, giving students a chance to see themselves in this lovely and serene world.
Part of Mr. Dillman’s persona is his obvious love for his family; especially his grandchildren. He often shares stories of his grandchildren with his students and refers to his students as his “honorary grandchildren.” Throughout the garden are several large stepping stones that originally read, “I love my grandchildren.” Asking Ms. Westrich for her painting assistance, he requested that the stones be edited to read, “I love my honorary grandchildren.”
The fairy garden will be taken down at the end of the school year; hours will be spent picking up the pebbles, gathering the moss and carefully putting each piece back into its storage box for retrieval next year. Only one piece was broken, a fairy Eiffel Tower that was accidentally knocked over. Dillman said, “The students are mostly very respectful of it. They know how much time, money and love was put into it. I work very hard to establish an environment of trust in the classroom. The fairy garden is both a cause and product of that trust. I find when you trust students, they tend to want to reward that trust.”
This unique fairy garden, an inspired symbol of love and trust, offers students a chance to get lost in a world where fairies look just like them and where they will always be someone’s “honorary” grandchild.