Sligo Creek Elementary parents dig into effort for outdoor classroom


(Greg Dohler/The Gazette)

Parents, teachers and students of Sligo Creek Elementary School in Silver Spring grabbed their gardening gloves and shovels Saturday morning for some outdoor education.

The school, which shares a courtyard with Silver Spring International Middle School, is working to create an outdoor classroom, complete with native plants and an edible garden, said Sligo parent Debbie Boger, chairwoman of the school’s committee for the project. The classroom will be integrated into some of the Montgomery County public schools’ curriculum and will be used by both schools, she said.

On Saturday, from about 9 a.m. to noon, community volunteers began the first phase of the project: prepping the land for a large planting, which will take place this Saturday, Boger said. The space is described as about a quarter to a third of the size of a football field. It is currently a grassy area with four mature trees and sidewalks.

“We had an avalanche of volunteers,” said Boger, the parent of a second-grader at Sligo Creek and a preschooler who will attend the school for kindergarten. “It was wonderful to see all of the students come out to help create this.”

Among those students were fifth-graders Claire Haeberle, 11, of Silver Spring and Zoe Popovici, 10, of Takoma Park. Both students will attend Silver Spring International next year.

“It’s really cool because we get to grow fresh vegetables and stuff, so we can have that for lunch,” Claire said.

Whole Foods Market in Silver Spring also pitched in with a seed drive fundraiser for the school.

Amy Kenney, a Sligo parent who is on the PTA’s outdoor classroom committee, said customers bought 189 packets of seeds for the outdoor classroom. She said Whole Foods also gave the school $100 credit toward gardening supplies, including salad materials.

Zoe said she is excited to learn while getting some fresh air.

Claire’s mother, Cori Vanchieri, said several meetings were held to get input from parents about the project.

The land “isn’t used for anything right now,” Vanchieri said. “To have this ability to have an outdoor space where kids could spend time and learn about nature . . . and see how plants grow makes such incredible sense.”

Sligo Creek Principal Diantha Swift said the outdoor classroom has been in the making for a few years. The school needed a series of approvals and permits to move forward.

Boger said the PTA hopes to raise enough money through private donors and fundraising efforts to include a pond, a stone garden, a stage with seating and a picnic area. So far, the group has raised $10,000 of the estimated $250,000 they need to complete the project.

The project will require some upkeep and, Boger said, because it is a living classroom, work will “never be done.” She said the group was lucky to receive professional services from families in the school. A watering schedule will be established over the summer for PTA families to take turns with garden maintenance.

Boger said the group drew inspiration from two local schools: Judith A. Resnik Elementary School, in Gaithersburg, and Tuckahoe Elementary School, in Arlington County. She hopes the Silver Spring outdoor classroom will be just as beautiful as those spaces in 15 years.

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