Folger McKinsey Elementary School’s Outdoor Classroom (The OC)
Walk out to the courtyard in recently remodeled Folger McKinsey Elementary School and it is immediately evident that this is no ordinary school courtyard. The space is being transformed into Folger’s very own Outdoor Classroom or “OC,” complete with a water garden, raised vegetable and flower beds, butterfly garden, native trees and shrubs, a platform stage, and a seating area. Folger gives thanks to Captain Planet Foundation, the Lowes Toolbox for Education Grant Program, The Chesapeake Bay Trust, and Unity Gardens for the financial contributions that allowed the idea of the OC to become a reality.
Folger Principal Mrs. Sue Bachmann told us, “Many schools have outdoor courtyards, but they’re under-utilized. People just walk through them. I want so much more for Folger McKinsey’s courtyard. I want it to provide valuable hands-on learning for every student in every grade. The OC is where our students are learning by doing.”
The outdoor water garden is a must-see for anyone visiting Folger. It was constructed by Mr. Woody Luckeroth at Beaver Pond Lawn & Landscape LTD and required twelve tons of topsoil, six tons of boulders, and two tons of gravel. The pondless waterfall depicts a natural stream, leading to a bog which will be completed in the coming weeks. Filled with sand and peat moss, the bog is a natural filter. A nearby rain barrel acts as its sole water source.
Another rain barrel will be used to help sustain the courtyard’s butterfly garden and the raised vegetable, herb and flower beds. These gardens are going to be maintained by the students of Folger. The platform stage, to be constructed this fall, promises endless possibilities for students to perform skits, make speeches and presentations, and offer artistic or musical performances. Thanks to the guidance of Jeff Franklin and the outdoor learning tools available at Franklin’s Toys, magnifying glasses, bug catchers, nets, and ant farms will allow even the youngest students to enjoy the benefits of this schoolyard habitat in the “exploratorium.”
Folger parent and PTO member Chris Myers is playing a major role in the making of the OC. Regarding the selection of the name “OC” Myers explains, “We wanted to have a catchy name. Kids from this area have a fond association with ‘OC.’ We want everyone to spend some time in the OC; the Outdoor Classroom. We’ll have lessons in science, math, language arts, art class. Anything and everything is possible.”
Myers formed Folger’s Outdoor Classroom Club, or the ‘OC2,’ a student extra-curricular program that will allow for additional activities and getting the students involved in planning and maintaining the courtyard’s many components. She stated, “We want to make sure the OC helps to foster a connection to the Chesapeake Bay environment in which we live and to instill a responsibility to care for it too.”
Myers noted, “My involvement with the Green School Award and Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) led me to hope that the newly designed school would allow for so much more in terms of getting our students outside for learning. The space is huge and has so much potential! It is so exciting as we continue to add components that will allow for a wide range of activities and lessons, across all grade levels. It is full of wonder! I hope that this is what kids will see and experience. I am thrilled by the partnerships that are making the OC a reality - from the many volunteers, to grant programs, service providers, community businesses, to parents, kids, and staff.”
The money for the OC’s materials, bought at wholesale pricing through Turf Equipment and Supply, was raised by Folger’s PTO Grant Committee (parents Erin Jacobs, Katie McCone, Pat Fasick, Donna Ball, and Chris Myers). Mrs. Jacobs stated, “Folger McKinsey was the recipient of a very generous Lowes Toolbox for Education grant, a grant which is offered twice yearly and is intended to help parent-teacher organizations to become more involved in supporting change and educational initiatives at their schools.”
The Chesapeake Bay Trust provided Folger with a generous grant, the Mini Grant for K-12 Environmental Education. Part of the Chesapeake Bay Trust grant helps support environmental field trips to Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), the Carrie Weedon Science Center, and Camp Woodlands Outdoor Education Center. Jacobs added, “Students will be able to learn from the experts and bring the knowledge home, putting it into practice in their very own outdoor environmental learning space.”
Captain Planet Foundation granted Folger with a shed and tool storage bench to help with maintenance. Part of the Captain Planet grant also finished the cost of materials for the courtyard’s garden and bog equipment.
The experts at Arlington Echo are offering input to Folger’s plan to house native plants. Unity Gardens, Incorporated has granted money for the gardens and bog plants. Several of the other plants and shrubs were received by Folger students at the 2012 Green Schools Youth Summit last June. Thanks to the efforts of the entire 5th grade, the additional plants will be added soon. Math and science lessons were recently taken outside for students to measure various areas in the OC and in the back of the school. The students will take their measurements and calculate area in conjunction with the plant information that science students researched about native plants in order to incorporate additional greenery into the OC.
How’s that for hands-on learning? There is nothing ordinary about the courtyard at Folger, and it truly must be seen (and touched, smelled, and listened to) to be believed!