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.


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