Learning Gardens

Teachers have always tried to bring the outdoors inside when possible and everyone most likely agrees that for a child, there is nothing better than hands-on learning, especially when it comes to science.  Many of our area schools have courtyards and are utilized to a certain degree for outdoor classrooms, but when you equip it with tools for hands-on activities by creating a learning garden, the possibilities for educating a child are limitless.

Ecoff Elementary was lucky enough this year to have a Boy Scout working on his Eagle rank to plan and construct a pond with a waterfall in their courtyard, which has access from the lunch room and one of the main hallways in the school.  When the children and their teachers return for the new school year, they will find more than a water feature that provides a focal point in their courtyard, but a pond filled with possibilities of attracting wildlife and a waterfall that will entice their senses and provide both relaxation and a sense of calmness.

Tyler Grabham, a rising junior at James River High School, is a member of Boy Scout Troop 2860 based out of Woodlake United Methodist Church.  He was struggling to find a project while working on his Eagle rank.  “I didn’t just want to build benches,” he said.

While attending his brother’s soccer practice, he got a lead. Sarah Glass, a fifth-grade teacher at Ecoff, overheard his dilemma and suggested building a pond in her school’s courtyard.  It was something she has been thinking about for awhile.  “I just thought it would be such a terrific learning experience for the children,” she said.  “Just to get outdoors and there is so much science on the SOLs.  Water features with creatures that live in a pond.  It benefits all levels of SOLs.”

Grabham went to work in October and was hoping to have approval of his plans and construct the project during spring break.  This is where the process of persistence, endurance and following through with a project and management of that project comes into play for a Scout on his way to an Eagle rank.

It wasn’t easy for Grabham.  The biggest hurdle was getting the approval from Chesterfield County Public Schools Risk Management.  “It took months,” he said.  Missing the spring break opportunity, Grabham along with 25 Scout volunteers and after a culmination of 375hours, nearly 100 hours being Grabham’s,  the waterfall was running smoothly and the pond preparing for future residents of frogs, salamanders , fish and little hands grasping to learn the life cycles of each was complete.

Grabham raised the funds for the pond kit and the landscaping.  Vulcan Quarries, a business partner with Ecoff, donated and delivered the rock. The pond is 8’ x 11’ and the water fall is 36 inches high and 24 feet long.

Bermuda School Board Representative Carrie Coyner said the board was meeting the following Tuesday to talk about Learning Gardens and set a policy that makes it easier for a learning garden to be constructed. “A Learning Garden is a positive impact in a school,” she said.  “They look nice, increases moral and gives lots of SOL support. It’s hands-on learning.”

She said other schools are in the process of putting in learning gardens.  Bellwood Elementary is creating a vegetable garden and Coyner’s church recruited volunteers to work last Sunday at Harrowgate Elementary creating a butterfly garden.

Ecoff’s principal, Josh Cole, is very excited about the learning garden. “The courtyard becomes more of an outdoor classroom,” he said.  “An opportunity for science lessons and kids enjoy getting their hands dirty.”  He also said his teachers are very much behind and invested in the project.

Grabham is the son of Scott and Jeanine Grabham. 

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