Written by Phil Cerroni
By Sissy Courtney
With help from a $7,000 grant from Coppell ISD Education Foundation, Valley Ranch Elementary School (VRE) broke ground Jan. 25 on their new school garden and outdoor learning center. The VRE grant committee partnered with Lowe’s Home Improvement in Lewisville and Real School Gardens to design the garden and to create the grant proposal. A buy-a-brick program will be a continuing fundraiser for the garden.
VRE students are known as the Stars, and they voted to name the outdoor learning areaThe Garden of the Stars. Students and teachers will use the area to facilitate hands-on, inquiry-based learning activities and experiences which support the school-wide Project Based Learning initiatives in science, math, social students and language arts. With the help of school staff, parents, students, neighbors and friends of VRE, construction on the school garden began Jan. 26. Spring planting will start in March.
“We’re building eight raised vegetable gardens, one for each grade level (or group) so they can come out and populate their own vegetables,” said Peter Macrae, a teachers’ aide who teaches technology to kindergartners and first graders. “We also have a native plant section that’s going to be a Monarch (butterfly) station. We will count Monarchs as part of the national program for the Monarch Society. A star flower garden will represent the school since they are the Valley Ranch Stars.
“It will be a classroom outside where kids can learn about growing vegetables rather than buying them in plastic containers,” Macrae said. “That’s our goal. Everything grown will be completely organic.”
Macrae and Kris Rindels, a fifth grade science teacher, were in charge of the building operations.
“Through fifth grade science classes, the kids did a project and researched what kinds of plants are drought tolerant and what would survive in the heat during different times of the year,” Rindels said. “They also researched what kinds of plants would attract butterflies.
“Over the summer, some of us met and wrote a grant for the Education Foundation for Coppell, and that is how we got the money to fund a lot of this. It has blossomed from there. Eventually down the road, we’re going to have a pergola and a learning center out here. It can be an ongoing project for years to come.”
“(Students can) leave a little ownership of the garden when they move to middle school, with a brick in the garden,” Macrae said. “We are going to populate the walkway with bricks and then around the star.”
Art teacher Laci Garza was on the grant committee. The garden is next to her classroom, and she talked about how the garden will benefit her students.
“I’m really excited because I’ll be able to bring kids out here to draw flowers that usually I have to have in my classroom,”Garza said.
Nancy Payne with Real School Gardens lives in the neighborhood but does not have children at the school. She was there helping build the Monarch butterfly station.
“We help schools build learning gardens and then we teach teachers how to teach outdoors,” Payne said. “We are a nonprofit (group). We have 91 schools in five North Texas districts. I’m a friend of Peter who is a group leader, and I’ve only helped when he had questions. I helped them pick the plants, so they’re all native plants.”
Other project members include Amy Cheatham, April Owen, Cindy Amyx, Cindy Coggins, Diane Greckel, Jodi Schleter, Kati Castellanos, Lorie Squalls, and Tammee Henderson, Carol Snowden and Principal Cynthia Arterbery.
Story includes press release information by Amy Cheatham.