Five schools awarded GROW funding!

Schools recently selected for the 2013 – 2014 Growing Outdoor Classrooms Program are Lapham Elementary, Orchard Ridge Elementary, and Sherman Middle School in Madison as well as Prairie Elementary in Waunakee, and Marshall Early Learning Center in Marshall.

As children returned to class last week, five area elementary and middle schools greeted their students with a new and wild kind of learning experience – an outdoor education.
It’s part of an innovative program led by the GROW Coalition (Grass Roots Outdoor Wonder) to promote outdoor learning and sustainability through school gardens and other natural spaces. “Growing Outdoor Classrooms,” the program aims to incorporate garden-based learning into K-8 curricula in Dane County schools.

The schools selected for the 2013 – 2014 Growing Outdoor Classrooms program are Lapham Elementary (Near East Madison), Marshall Early Learning Center (Marshall), Orchard Ridge Elementary (West Madison), Prairie Elementary (Waunakee), and Sherman Middle School (North Madison).

With major multi-year funding from the Madison Community Foundation, the selected schools each receive $8000 to build or expand an outdoor classroom or school garden. The GROW Coalition provides program support and expert resources for the design and development of the outdoor learning experience, and Sustain Dane facilitates complimentary sustainability workshops and school-based sustainability projects. The EPA provides additional funding through a Climate Showcase Communities grant.

“This program is holistic and innovative in its approach to community-supported curriculum development around sustainability,” says Julie Jarvis, Sustain Dane Director of Sustainable Schools Initiatives. Jarvis notes that a growing number of schools across the nation are recognizing the educational and health benefits of incorporating sustainability into their curriculum and operations. Outdoor classrooms, whether a vegetable garden, a rain garden, a woodland or a prairie, are a cornerstone of that effort, supporting and engaging students, especially those facing academic challenges.

Last year, in the first year of the program, nearly 2,000 students at five schools in the Madison Metropolitan School District engaged in school-wide design exercises, “garden nights,” garden-based class projects, and all-out garden build days. Leading businesses in the region got involved. CUNA Mutual Group, an MPower Business Champion, joined forces with Muir Elementary School to build a 5,000 square foot garden. Muir staff, students, parents, community volunteers and 100 CUNA Mutual Group employees laid compost, weed barrier and wood chips on paths in and around a garden constructed on school grounds.

Jen Greenwald, who teaches second grade at Muir Elementary, said, ”when kids are in the garden, they ask boundless questions about what they see, feel, taste and hear. They eat food they never would otherwise try because they grew it themselves. When we ask them to go back to the indoor classroom, they protest. They don’t want to leave this wonder-filled place they have created.”