Sope Creek's New School Gardens
A recent "work day" transformed part of the school grounds into a new outdoor learning environment.
Sope Creek Elementary School was recently the site of a “first of its kind work day,” bringing together parents, community and 50 Lowe’s Home Improvement employees to build and renovate environmental education sites at the school. This effort brought to reality a long planned outdoor learning environment.
Over the course of three days, a team of employees from Lowe's “Heroes” program created two garden spaces on Sope Creek's campus. The Heroes program encourages employees in a location to team together, adopt a volunteer project with a local nonprofit organization or K–12 public school and make a difference.
Braving heat, humidity, and rain, the Lowe’s Heroes transformed outside school spaces into beautiful, functional and educational gardens.
The new environmental sites include a Five-Senses Garden with unique artist-designed garden sculptures, a 3,600-square foot fruit and vegetable garden with year-round greenhouse that serves as an outdoor classroom and an orchard of fruit trees.
How this dynamic learning space came to be is a great example of how an entire community, working together, can make a dream a reality.
History of our project:
In 2006, Sope Creek partnered with Seeds of Nutrition to teach its students about growing things, cooking healthy and eating whole foods. Garden beds were installed around the perimeter of the school, and as teachers worked the outdoor gardens into their curriculum they realized how useful it was to bring the classroom outside.
Through the years bed spaces were increased, with Alternative Spring Break college students creating another gardening area. Teachers continued to implement gardening projects into the curriculum on their own. The school’s option for using these growing spaces was limited though because they had to confine the gardening curriculum to the school year and they needed more space.
Planning and design begins:
In 2011, Sope Creek PTA's Environmental Education and Beautification Committee worked with Young Landscape Architects of Atlanta (YLa Atlanta) to visualize possibilities for a teaching garden with greenhouse. YLa (many of them Sope Creek alumni) visited the school and walked the grounds. During a “charrette” (collaborative solution to a problem) and a design plan for a fruit and vegetable garden complete with greenhouse; an in-kind gift of $7,500.
Funding a dream:
Now that the design was complete, the Sope Creek PTA Environmental Education and Beautification Committee began extensive work to raise funds, find sponsors and involve the community. The team applied for grants and donations of time, and funds were sought from the greater community including:
- A national grant from Lowe's ToolBox for Education was critical for starter funding for the greenhouse.
- Whole Foods Market contributed $2,000 toward the vegetable garden. They also volunteered their time and talents to prepare the ground for the Five Senses Garden.
- Scott's Miracle-Gro donated all of the dirt and additional supplies -- crucial for the success of the raised beds.
- Keep Cobb Beautiful made a $1,000 donation toward the visually stimulating pollinator section of the Five Senses Garden.
- In addition to the community support and involvement, the Sope Creek PTA and Sope Creek Foundation provided matching funds for the greenhouse.
The plan becomes a reality:
Finally, on a rainy day in August 2012, a group of managers from eleven local Lowe's stores came together at the school. Manpower, supplies and over $9,000 worth of plants and equipment were donated by Lowe’s and installed under Sandy Springs store manager Gary Cook's leadership.
Over the course of the next three days, this team from the Lowe's “Heroes” program created the garden spaces on the Sope Creek campus.
And make a difference they did. Braving heat, humidity and torrential rain, the Lowe’s Heroes dug with tools, put in concrete, installed lumber edging, spilt-rail fences, raised garden beds, put together the new greenhouse and transformed the outside school spaces into beautiful, functional and educational gardens.
Butterflies go to school:
In a secret nook in the school, the group installed an amazing Five Senses Garden containing pollinator plants (visual), a wheel-chair height raised bed for student herb planting (smell, touch and taste) and an outdoor classroom. It was magical to see that as soon as the plants were placed in the ground, butterflies and birds found their way to them.
Kinetic sculptures will be installed later in the school year to complete the five senses experience with sound. The smells, textures and sounds of the garden, combined with Karen Walton’s moving sculptures of recycled materials, inspire and pique the senses.
Fruit and vegetables inspire the senses:
In a wide open space previously dominated by classroom trailers (turning an eyesore into a centerpiece), a Children’s Outdoor Learning Garden appeared. Along the perimeter outside the fence fruit plants including blueberries, raspberries and fig, apple and pear trees were planted.
Each of the beds inside the garden site will house a different kind of vegetable garden that ties in with grade-level science, math, social studies and nutrition curriculum, giving every classroom the opportunity to learn in the garden. And the new greenhouse will allow the school to extend the amount of time each year that students and teachers can combine learning with the environment as well as increase the diversity of plant choices.
Demonstration tables and planting tables at various heights meet different students’ needs. The Children’s Outdoor Learning Garden is ready to host a class and has a whiteboard for teacher and student use.
It takes a village:
The work day was a huge success. Working early and late, the PTA Environmental Education Committee completed the project just days before the first day of school. During student and family orientation days students and teachers toured the new outdoor learning spaces and saw the new exciting spaces. Long lines formed at each Open House evening as parents lined up to sign up to help maintain the gardens and volunteer for class projects.
With these new spaces, recess and classroom time are full of excitement as a dream of the school is realized -- combining a love of the great outdoors with learning.
See how the gardens "grew" over the course of construction by watching this fascinating time lapse video http://vimeo.com/47293065. And for more pictures of the gardens and the process, visit the Garden Photo Album, click here.
Thank you to all of the sponsors that made this dream a reality: Lowe's, Whole Foods Market, Keep Cobb Beautiful, Scotts Miracle-Gro, and Young Landscape Architects of Atlanta.
And very special thank yous to the visionaries who made this happen: Sope Creek parent volunteers Monica Anschel, Jason Evans, Leisa Holmes and Anne Rood.