Landstown Middle plants new, earthy learning space

The newest classroom at Landstown Middle School will give students plenty to chew on. It grows vegetables.

Teachers, parents and businesses worked together to build an outdoor classroom at Landstown Middle School. (Courtesy of Carla Smith)
Teachers, parents and businesses worked together to build an outdoor classroom at Landstown Middle School. (Courtesy of Carla Smith)

The 14,000 square-foot venue, one of the few outdoor classrooms in the area, opened this fall after a parent and two teachers imagined it and a community helped them build it. It features flower gardens, vegetable beds and space for 40 students. Teachers have varied plans for the classroom, from lessons on the environment, proper diets and the differences between organic and processed foods, to art classes that use plants to make dye for painting or as inspiration for drawings.

Kelly Jackson, a physical education and health teacher who helped create the classroom, said the possibilities are endless.

“I would like to see it used in English for reading novels or as inspiration for a story, song or poem,” she said. “Math and/or art classes could use graph paper, select an area to measure and sketch an idea for what should be built to continue to expand our classroom.”

The story behind the outdoor classroom traces back to last spring, when parent Carla Smith was brainstorming ways to raise money for the Landstown Middle Parent Teacher Student Association. Smith, vice president of the PTSA, had learned about an Earth Day program in which a department store donated money to help local environmental service projects, so she began to think about what projects she could do for her school.

Smith knew she needed help. She said she is good at logistics but had little experience with gardening or building.

“I said I could spearhead this, but I needed some teachers to get on board,” she said.

At the same time, Jackson was applying for a grant for an outdoor garden through Landstown’s Project SELF: Shaping Every Lancer’s Future. Jackson joined Smith and, along with art teacher Jennifer Lauzon, the idea for an outdoor classroom was born.

A $1200 grant from Project SELF  set things in motion.

“Most of it was funded by the $1200,” Smith said. “We had one man from a company called SteamPro that gave us a $250 gift that we used to stock our shed. And then the PTA chipped in maybe $500. So between those three things, that funded the entire project.”

They reached out to community for volunteers and donations to finish the classroom by September. About 75 people helped, Smith said. Local business owners put tables together, and a few people picked out the tree stumps that were turned into seats, she said. Home Depot donated wood and plants. Kohl’s provided volunteers for a “mulching day.” The city contributed landscaping items.

“The biggest surprise was the outpouring of donations from community members and businesses,” Jackson said. “I think that is when I realized how truly amazing it is to live in a community that values and supports education.”

The classroom opened Sept. 14. Smith hopes it will have a positive impact on education at Landstown.

“We kind of brought Landstown middle school into the 21st century in regards to sustainability, which is nice because sometimes if you have to wait for it to get factored into the budget, you know you wait a long time,” Smith said.

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