Plans for a new wetland and gardens at Hardy Middle School will provide an outdoor classroom for students and could serve to better connect the community with the school. Through the District Department of the Environment, Hardy received a grant to build a new wetlands area, butterfly garden and vegetable garden in a marshy patch of grass next to the tennis courts.
Maya Garcia, the Chair of the Science Department, first came up with the idea for an outdoor classroom at the school after she was “inspired” by a trip to Costa Rica. She initially proposed a green roof— a roof partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane—but when it was clear there would be no good way for the kids to access it, she went back to the drawing board.
In 2010, she, with the help of her committee members, Britni Whitty and Andrea Clyne, applied for a River Smart Schools Grant through DDOE.
The DDOE has funds to promote watershed awareness.
According to Trinh Doan, an environmental protection specialist at DDOE, Hardy was one of five schools to receive a grant out of approximately 20 that applied.
“We are excited to be one of the few schools in the city” to have a model wetland said Garcia.
The main goals for the new outdoor classroom as Garcia sees them are:
- To give students a better sense of the natural world, to teach them to become environmental stewards
- To open up the school to the community by inviting them to meet the students
- To create an environmental certificate program earned by Hardy Students from sixth through eighth grade.
Garcia hopes that the outdoor classroom will benefit not just the science department, but the whole school. She said the English department is working to be in charge of signage for the various elements of the gardens.
Her “dream” is to have student-led tours and community teaching sessions.
She hopes to engage the students and the community. The new interactive learning opportunities “will only add and appeal to more” people in the neighborhood, said Garcia.
Last week DDOE employees and a handful of volunteers dug a small pond area and helped fill it with clay and sand to create the proper environment for a wetland. The clay acts as a “natural sponge” said Doan.
DDOE knew the area next to the tennis court would work. The grass was already over-saturated, which kept the kids from wanting to play in the area. And since it sits directly next to the hill the 35th Street, it would allow for the capture and storage of surface run-off.
The plan is to build a trench on the hill from 35th Street and have water run off through a tube into a 1,700 gallon cistern. A “leaf eater” at the entry point will help filter out anything other than water, explained Doan.
Pete Hill, the DDOE branch chief helping with the project, said the cistern would fill with water and then filter run off into the wetlands area. It will also serve as a source of water during dry-patches in the growing season for the garden.
This project is “different from anything else I’ve seen” said Hill, so the DDOE team is “trying out some new things” to work with the existing natural environment.
For instance, the extra dirt that was removed to create the pond area, was put into a sloping mound for the kids to sit on during outdoor lessons. The trees and bushes along the campuses had been in desperate need of trimming, so the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization (OPEFM) sent over a team to do that and DDOE gladly took some of the branches and trees to fill the base of the wetland area.
By having whole organic elements mixed with the compost they will eventually add, it will allow for a slower release of nutrients, explained Hill.
The wetlands and the future gardens have been a true collaboration of local businesses and organizations. Garcia said the Butterfly Garden will be supported through the Monarch Sister Schools Program. DC Greens has also “given us quite a bit of support” said Garcia.
She took it upon herself to stop by the local Starbucks on Wisconsin Avenue and the manager there agreed to work with the school on composting their coffee grids in a compost area Garcia would like to see added to the gardens. Farther up the hill, the Whole Foods in Glover Park agreed to help with fundraising.
There is and will be plenty of room for volunteers, donations and help from the community. Garcia anticipates hosting community work days, especially in the vegetable garden. Volunteer your time in exchange for produce. She said they would also welcome the expertise of someone who could build their raised beds or compost pile. Then there are the every day needs: shovels, gloves, tools etc.
“We want the community to be part of the garden” said Garcia, and to “respect the space” as a unique learning tool for Hardy students.
The wetlands will be planted during D.C. School Garden Week Sept. 26 through Oct. 1. The butterfly garden will be planted in the spring and the vegetable garden will be part of next fall’s lessons.