Marvelous Mia

Learning garden created to honor life and legacy

Posted 10/18/22


“Mia was marvelous,” said Angela Palazini Monday morning outside Western Hills Middle School’s entrance.

A group of roughly 80 students, teachers and family …

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Marvelous Mia

Learning garden created to honor life and legacy


“Mia was marvelous,” said Angela Palazini Monday morning outside Western Hills Middle School’s entrance.

A group of roughly 80 students, teachers and family members gathered at the school’s new Mia Hanley Learning Garden created to honor the life and legacy of 16-year-old Western Hills graduate and Cranston West student Mia Hanley who passed away on Feb. 22, 2021.

Mia had been diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Pompe disease at six months old.  Pompe disease affects various organs and systems throughout the body and causes severe muscular weakness. At that time, Mia was one of two individuals in New England with the disease and, since there was no treatment for it, many individuals only live one or two years. Mia was entered into a clinical trial which enabled her to live until age 16.

After her death, Palazini – who was Mia’s ELA and math teacher during middle school – spearheaded the learning garden initiative. She wanted to do something bigger than planting a tree or dedicating a plaque in her honor.

When Palazini approached Mia’s mom, Dawn, with the idea for a learning garden, Dawn immediately knew that there needed to be a little library at the site since Mia loved reading. The project’s five-member planning crew got to work on the garden. Things were slow at first due to Covid but eventually started moving along.

Today, the learning garden includes four benches, a walkway, patio, garden, signs, birdhouse, little library weather vane, sundial and weather gauge.

“Our vision is for teachers to use this space to bring their students for various learning activities. It is open and inclusive to all students' abilities,” Palazini said.

The library is filled with books from an elementary to high school reading level. The little library’s post includes wooden arrows with Mia’s favorite books – including “Smile,” “Wonder,” “The Fault in Our Stars,” “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” and “American Royals.”

Kendra Tanguay, Mia’s middle school English teacher and member of the planning committee, added that the learning garden is handicap accessible – so it’s open to all students.

While working to obtain materials for the learning garden, Palazini would go to businesses and ask about pricing for certain items. The businesses would ask what she was building and, after she explained the project, every business donated the needed materials.

Palazini thanked these organizations including the NEL/CPS Construction and Career Academy’s students for preparing and framing the patio. She also thanked Cardi Corporation and the City of Cranston’s Matt Volpi and Dennis Conte Jr. for helping with the concrete and installing the benches. Briden Nursery donated plants, Loffredo’s Monumental Decor donated the memorial stone and Maplewood Landscaping and Nursery donated the mulch. Palazini said Mr. and Mrs. Anthony Palumbo provided the brick walkway and the benches were made possible by the Cranston Teachers’ Alliance, Little Learners Academy and Western Hills faculty/staff.

Western Hills Principal Timothy Vesey said the learning garden was a community effort.

“Everyone knew Mia,” said Vesey, adding that she was a big part of the Western Hills community. “She brought a smile to our faces.”

Mia was described as considerate of others, kind, helpful, caring, funny, lovable, a good listener, cool and compassionate.

“Mia was always up for a good giggle,” Palazini said, which received a chuckle from the crowd.

Dawn also spoke Monday at the learning garden’s ribbon cutting.

“I am just amazed,” said Dawn. “I can’t believe a community would come together and do something so beautiful.”

The Hanley family donated supplies that could be used for the outdoor classroom. Some of the items include outdoor games, a dry erase board, mats to sit on and a basket of toys for children with fine motor special needs. She mentioned that every family member had a part in the project. Her sister painted the garden signs and her mother and niece painted rocks.

“I think that everyone who participated felt some sort of healing as they did these projects,” Dawn said.

Dawn explained how Mia loved playing school and would always be the teacher. She was also part of the Falconettes and members of that group and the Westernettes stopped by for the ribbon cutting.

Mayor Ken Hopkins also made an appearance.

“Anytime we lose a young girl like this, it hits all of us,” said Hopkins. “We’re here for you …. she will always be in our hearts and prayers.”

Palazini said people have said the learning garden is very peaceful and that the project was a labor of love for a great girl.

“Through this learning garden, Mia’s memory and legacy will continue to grow and bloom like the flowers in this garden,” Palazini said.

Mia, garden


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