Outdoor Learning Environment StCatherines

Benefits of Green Spaces in Schools

December 30, 2015

Green spaces and community gardens have been an evolving and ever increasing trend over the last fifteen years in America’s schools. Multiple studies from around the country have shown similar and encouraging results that student exposure to natural experiences, as part of their daily curriculum, increases overall productivity and engagement, as well as increases students’ cognitive abilities and memory. So, needless to say, today’s efforts of incorporating green spaces and community gardens into our architectural designs are ultimately creating great places for both students and plant-life to grow!

Recently, BCWH has participated in the Greater Virginia Green Building Council’s ‘Connect the Dots’ program as mentors for the St. Catherine’s School in Richmond, Virginia, with a primary focus on their 4th grade students and Community Garden. For the past three years, BCWH has assisted St. Catherine’s with developing and implementing various “green” concepts to invigorate their existing Community Garden, and create more cross-curricular learning opportunities for the school. Some of these projects include designing and building a hoop house for existing planter beds in order to extend the planting season into cooler months, installation of a rainwater capture system with a bicycle powered pump for watering crops, decorative sculpture and paintings created from re-purposed and recycled materials, and planting seasonal crops to be harvested for donation to local food banks.

Our most recent collaboration, the hoop house, has been an outstanding project with immediate and observable results in the students’ reactions. From its original conception to final construction, the students have been amazed at the process of designing and building a hoop house themselves. Many times we overhear them saying things like, “I have never used a power tool before!” and “This is really fun!”, as well as “We built this! This is really cool!”, which further proves that what we do as mentors is all worth it! With our help, the girls have created new experiences, increased their knowledge, and ignited a passion for learning and being conscientious citizens in their local community now, and in future communities as they grow.

“Having professional mentors has helped generate a lot of resources and excitement for our school garden.  Some of the resources have been educational and of course the expertise of field professionals. The girls learn how these skills that they are learning can serve them in the workforce and more importantly how having an environmental conscience is essential in all work to take care of our resources for our generation and future generations. Without the help of our mentors these project would have been overwhelming and may not have happened. They have volunteered knowledge and countless hours to our success and we are grateful.”

-Jacque Minarik, Art Teacher and Lead Ecology Club Organizer at St. Catherine’s School for Girls

The Greater Virginia Green Building Council presented St. Catherine’s School for Girls as the winner of the 2015 Connect the Dots Green School Challenge Honor Award, the highest merit of the GVGBC’s 10th Annual Leadership Awards, on December 3rd. This wonderful award recognizes the school’s efforts toward demonstrating leadership in sustainable practices, energy efficiency, and creating healthy places to live, learn, work, and play. The Honor Award also included a cash prize of $750 that the school may use to fund future green projects for their Community Garden in conjunction with their lower school ecology club.

For more detailed information on the Connect the Dots program and the work at St. Catherine’s, check out our view book.

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References:

Videos of hoop house project: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUzu8_M-p4edRM2_5-lZ1yLLNLFJEoOde 

http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/14/health/healthy-school-gardens/index.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/19/green-spaces-schools_n_7594882.html

photo credit: Therese LangeAllison