Help Us Dig It: Building an Outdoor Learning Lab at Providence Middle School

March 05, 2019

My project is called Help Us Dig It: Building an Outdoor Learning Lab for Providence Middle School. The goal of our project is to construct an outdoor area where our students can learn about growing food, observe nature, and have more access for learning outside. During a 40 minute rotation on March 5th, over 300 students traveled from our courtyard, to picnic tables in our bus loop, and out behind our school where our school garden and outdoor learning lab now exists. Students participate in pollinator education, kindness rock painting, and helped to build our school garden.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension was on hand in our courtyard providing pollinator education throughout the day to our students. There was a demonstration bee hive, bee suit and smoker for students to try, as well as information and seeds for students to take home. Our Providence Green Club students were also stationed outside in the courtyard, educating their peers about our successful lunch vermicomposting program; they hosted a meet and greet with our red wiggler composting worms, and facilitated seed starting for our garden. Students placed the seeds they started on March 5th into our greenhouses to watch as they grow into the seedlings that will eventually be transplanted into our school garden.

At picnic tables in our bus loop students painted kindness rocks that will decorate our garden and school yard. During this project we encouraged our students to share positive messages with each other and our community with bright and beautiful art! This activity is now part of an ongoing effort to positively impact the mindset of our student body and students absolutely loved it. The rocks they painted are currently laid out in our garden and teachers continue to facilitate the painting of kindness rocks with their classes for our school grounds.

The goal of this project is two fold: In addition to providing hands on environmental education through access to a school garden and the associated aspects of gardening, a second goal is to provide our teachers and students with the access to outdoor educational experiences. Our school is primarily an urban location and few of our students have access to green space at home or have experiences growing anything. Spending time in nature is therapeutic and inspirational! A key goal and measurement of success of the project is an increase in the amount of time that students are able to spend learning outside.

Through this project, all students have now have the opportunity to spend time outside helping to dig, plant, and eventually harvest during their classes, various extracurricular events, and during after school programs in a garden that belongs to our entire school community. Their efforts outside in the garden are an authentic lesson in service learning and the benefits to our greater school community. I hope our school garden will become an epicenter for outdoor experiences and will be a medium to incorporate environmental education into all the core curriculum instruction at Providence. Students will be measuring, planning, planting, harvesting, and applying critical thinking skills through the many different activities that can be done in the garden while reaping the rewards of being active in nature.


Students attended


Staff attended


Additional Volunteers attended


Students will be impacted this year

Intended impact of project

Reduced environmental impact

Impact of project

Educated on sustainable skills and practices
Educated on sustainability knowledge
Environmental restoration
Improved environmental & sustainability literacy
Beautification of school/site

More impact of project

At the 3rd stop in their rotation during our Green Apple Day of Service, over 300 students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades helped to construct our 50 foot by 70 foot school garden. We started the day with an empty field and ended the school day with a fully fenced in garden of 12 raised beds with mulched rows, surrounded on two sides by pollinator garden beds and a mulched classroom area in the center for planting. We proved that as the saying goes, many hands make light work! Our garden construction was led by the 4H department of the Virginia Cooperative Extension, and funded through grants, donations, and Teacher of the Year award money I received from Chesterfield County. This project was the beginning of a relationship between our school and our local Cooperative Extension that will continue with additional pollinator education events and planting opportunities for students in the future.
Data from a survey given to teachers during the development of this project showed that over 60% of teachers currently take their students outside to learn once per year or less. This survey also showed that about 80% of teachers would be more likely to take their students outside to learn if there was a space available for them to use. Already through this project, students were exposed to learning in and about nature for a portion of about 111 distinct class periods, by 16 different teachers in all 4 core subjects as well as the elective classes of Spanish, Physical Education, and Art. Our outdoor learning lab construction will continue into the future with the addition of pollinator gardens, seating and potting areas, bird and bat habitats, and a storage space. Ultimately the space will be open for use by all teachers in the building. We intend to conduct regular pollinator and nature education events using this space in conjunction with our partnership with the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Our next event is scheduled for April 23rd, during which students we will be installing a Monarch Waystation and planting the various flowers that we started during out Green Apple Day of Service.
This project was organized by two separate classes. A 6th grade science class initiated the process by researching and creating a plan for the space at our school. Their plan was submitted to the county for the approvals to begin construction. An 8th grade group of students in my Innovations and Inventions class organized the Green Apple Day of Service to begin the construction of the project; they made contact with teachers in various grade levels and subjects who brought their classes outside to participate on the day of the build, contacted business owners for donations prior to our GADS, worked on the garden plan with the 4H director of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
The Virginia Cooperative Extension participated in our Green Apple Day of Service by helping to build our garden on the day of our event. Master Gardners and a backyard beekeeper also participated in a pollinator education for our students.
The Virginia Cooperative Extension is a key partner with our project and future nature education efforts, and JB Mulch in Chester partnered with us to provide discounted soil and mulch for the project. In addition to building our garden and outdoor seating area and participating in pollinator education, students were involved in kindness rock painting during our Green Apple Day of Service. Students are encouraged to share positive thoughts and messages with their peers through art. These rocks a spread out in our garden and around our school grounds. Kindness rock painting is now an ongoing effort to help foster a positive and supportive mindset for our student body.