One of Joshua Miller’s teachers made quite an impression on him in first grade. Flash forward to 2023. The Green Run Collegiate senior found a way to give back to that teacher, Brandon Lugo, now principal at Diamond Springs Elementary. The 17-year-old helped build outdoor learning spaces at his former teacher’s school for his Eagle Scout project.
Lugo was a special education specialist who would spend time in Joshua’s first grade classroom at Lynnhaven Elementary. Joshua said his former teacher inspired him.
“He was my first-ever male teacher,” Joshua said. “He actually got me to want to wear a suit and tie to school.”
Brandon Lugo described Joshua as “a very sharp young man, resilient, with a good head on his shoulders.” He kept up with him through the years as Joshua’s mother, Chelyse Miller, is currently administrative assistant at Diamond Springs and Seatack elementary schools, and will soon be assistant principal at Creeds Elementary.
Miller said Lugo always asks how Josh is doing.
“He cares,” she said.
Lugo was impressed when Joshua asked him, “What can we do for your school?”
“We threw around some ideas on how to improve some of the dull, bland and older looking areas,” Lugo said. They decided the project would involve turning logs into outdoor stools placed in circles for students, so they’d have unique and fun spaces to learn outside.
Joshua became a Cub Scout in the first grade and has since earned more than 30 merit badges. He is on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, demonstrating leadership through a community service project.
Planning for the project began about two years ago. He made a list of supplies and posted a wish list online at Amazon. The response from friends, family members, and the community was great.
“I was happy so many people were so caring about this small school,” Joshua said.
He estimated the donations, including chainsaws, sandpaper, sealant, and a first-aid kit, were valued at about $750. That included a shed for the courtyard to store supplies.
The main items needed were logs. Dom’s Cheapscapes and Tree Service came through and dropped oak logs at Joshua’s house. On July 8, friends, family, and members of Joshua’s Boy Scout Troop 504 worked most of the day cutting logs in the Millers’ yard. The logs were sanded, and a sealant added for durability. Even Papa Johns joined in, donating pizza for the volunteers.
A couple days later, the logs were delivered to the school. Joshua’s crew of more than 20 arrived and got to work. Assistant Principal Karen Drosinos remembered the day.
“I was really impressed that high school kids did this,” she said. “It was a big task.”
Ten logs were placed in a circle within the courtyard. They worked hard in the extreme heat, taking regular water breaks as required by their leader Joshua. The other 20 logs were left outside the school building to eventually be positioned around a garden. Drosinos said her first thought was, “Our kids are going to love this!”
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the beginning of the school year to celebrate the new learning spaces, now enjoyed by many of the almost 500 prekindergarten through first graders and their teachers at Diamond Springs Elementary. Joshua’s mother said her son’s efforts have sparked others to plan for more improvements to the area, including butterfly and sensory gardens.
Joshua has a plan for his future. As part of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools’ Environmental Studies Program, he studies at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center in the mornings and has an internship there, setting up cameras to study the invasive species nutria. He’s also very devoted to the protection of penguins through the Western Bay Wildlife Trust, a community-based conservation group in New Zealand dedicated to protecting wildlife and native ecosystems.
Next fall, he’ll attend Tidewater Community College for two years to become certified as a veterinary technician. Then, he hopes to enroll in University of Mary Washington to study conservation biology.
Lugo praised Joshua for seeing a need and doing something for others.
“Josh has made a lasting impression on students at Diamond Springs,” he said.