Calvert ES transforms courtyard into outdoor classroom
— A few years ago, the Calvert Elementary School courtyard was nothing more than a big slab of concrete.
But thanks to the efforts of the school community, the Watershed Stewards Academy and the county Department of Public Works, the space has been transformed into an outdoor classroom, complete with several features that also aid the school’s stormwater management.
“I really wanted to try and use that as an outdoor instructional space, but we couldn’t because it was so hot and so barren and there were no seats,” said Elsie Harrigan, Calvert Elementary School principal. “So it’s been really nice to see the Calvert community come together to make this happen. We still have a long way to go with it but I think just in the last couple months, it’s really grown.”
The courtyard now boasts two rain gardens, several rain barrels, a native plants garden, a vegetable garden, two picnic tables and a covered trellis with seating. The space has been incorporated into the school’s science curriculum and teachers have also used the space to hold reading discussions and music lessons and to do outdoor science experiments, Harrigan said.
On Saturday, the school will show off the new space as part of its annual Fall Fest, which takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the school. Calvert will be selling plants to benefit the courtyard improvements and students will also get a chance to leave their handprints on the rain barrels.
All the updates to the courtyard are part of a lengthy process that started nearly three years ago when Harrigan became principal and began brainstorming with staff members about ways to re-purpose the courtyard. Then, a rain barrel and the native plants and vegetable gardens were installed last spring and summer by Brian Lightner, a parent at the school who took on the task as part of his Watershed Stewards Academy capstone project.
After those first improvements, Lightner pursued and won a $3,700 grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust, which was used to cover the cost of the two rain gardens as well as the addition of two more rain barrels. The county also matched $1,000 of that grant, Lightner said.
Members of the county Department of Public Works, including Marshall McSorley and Mike Evans, worked with the school and community members to build and design the two A vegetable garden was planted in the Calvert Elementary School courtyard, giving students at the school a chance to eat a small salad made of vegetables they had grown.
rain gardens. Though DPW has been involved in many stormwater management projects in the last few years, the courtyard project presented some challenges, McSorley said.
The concrete pavers covering the ground meant there was little room to excavate, so the group decided to put the rain gardens in planters instead of in the ground like most projects, he said.
“This is really the first time we’ve done something like this,” McSorley said.
The two rain gardens are fed by downspouts, which bring water from the roof into the 4-by-12-foot gardens. The gardens filter the water before it enters another set of pipes that take it to a retention garden outside the school, Lightner said.
Students and parents have been involved every step of the way, Lightner said, from planting native plants and watering them during the summer to helping with the actual construction. Students were even able to eat a small salad made out of vegetables they’d helped grow in the courtyard garden, he added.
“We’re improving water quality and increasing the sense of community pride,” Lightner said.
And Calvert isn’t done with the courtyard yet, Harrigan said. In the coming months, more seating will be installed as part of an Eagle Scout project and Harrigan also hopes to get umbrellas for the picnic tables and add a sundial and outdoor art to the space.
The courtyard improvements are also a big part of the school’s application to be designated as a Green School, she added.
“There’s a whole lot more we want to do with it to make it a more inviting space to use it as an instructional classroom,” Harrigan said.
Calvert Elementary School Principal Elsie Harrigan poses with second grade students in front of one of two rain gardens in the school’s courtyard.
Two rain gardens installed in the Calvert Elementary School courtyard help filter rainwater.
Two tables have been added to the Calvert Elementary School courtyard as part of efforts to transform it into an outdoor classroom.