BERKWOOD HEDGE'S ENVIRONMENTAL SIDE YARD PROJECT
Over the last several years, we at Berkwood Hedge have been talking about the south-facing side yard section of our campus: How can we maximize the growing area on the sun-soaked side of the school? How can we integrate the garden space with the lunch seating areas? What would the area look like if it were redesigned to be an outdoor classroom space for our Environmental Science classes, where worm composting, vegetable gardening, hatching and raising chicks, and learning about renewable energy sources are integral parts of the curriculum?
The Blue Sky Committee tackled these questions and others as it began to visualize a more beautiful, organic, green area where students could gather for eating, talking, playing, and learning.
As a part of the Blue Sky Committee, Director Jane Friedman, fourth grade teacher and Environmental Science Specialist, Erica Ryan, and fourth and fifth grade math teacher, Vera Balarin, worked together to define the various uses of the side yard.
The committee also consulted with parent and architect Evan McDonald, who produced a scale drawing of the area and made some practical suggestions for integrating design and function.
The committee was also inspired by the ideas of Sharon Gamson Danks and her book Asphalt to Ecosystems: Design Ideas for Schoolyard Transformation. Integrating children's art into the environment; vegetable garden and composting areas; a modular chicken coop; seating areas integrated with planter boxes; redwood logs placed together in clusters and organic lines as informal benches; tiered platform seating areas; an attractive and functional composting/recycling center; and garden nooks for imaginary play were some elements that emerged in the design meetings.
Berkwood Hedge parent, Matthew Gibbs, was hired as the contractor. He listened to the ideas of the committee, took their simple sketches, and articulated the vision with various overhead and sectional elevation drawings that conveyed the plan.
When students came back in September, they saw new planter boxes that doubled as benches and two tiered platforms for lunch seating and outdoor classroom gathering places. A short section of fence was pushed back to add space to the art courtyard, and a new gate provides access to the street and the trash/recycling area. Recycling centers are placed on both ends of the side yard. A wood and wire fence replaced the cyclone fence above the concrete wall.
In the next phase of the project we envision student created art on display, a modular coop built for chicks to be hatched in the spring, a solar- powered water feature to attract bird life, and lots of garden activities happening in science class.
The work of the Blue Sky Committee affirms Berkwood Hedge's commitment to beautifying our campus while using sustainable materials and multi-use designs that demonstrate to students and the community what it means to put our environmental values into practice.