Students Connect with the Environment at Laurel Ridge Elementary in Virginia

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This guest post is by Nick Rousos, principal of Laurel Ridge Elementary School in Fairfax, Virginia.

As a Laurel Ridge ES staff we had discussed changing the grounds of our school from spotty grass and mud into a multi-ecosystem “outdoor learning lab.” We envisioned addressing storm runoff and erosion issues on school grounds, having students study on-site water flow as part of an understanding of watersheds, and tying learning into the ways these issues impact global ecosystems.

Teaching students using an experiential model increased their curiosity and engagement in what they were learning, which led to more excitement about school and learning. The students have taken more ownership and pride in their school and the environment, making them better citizens of the world.

With the addition of some key parents and the Sharing the Dream grant, this project evolved from design concept and hope, to reality. Lands and Waters came out to work with first graders to raise worms in order to harvest the “tea” and compost to enrich garden soil. They assisted fourth grade as students tied the study of the colonists and Native Americans to the “real cost of food” program, planting vegetable gardens in raised beds.

Kindergarten is enhancing their study of seeds by planting pumpkins and cultivating the plants. Second grade planted milkweed for the new Monarch Butterfly way station and will release their butterflies into that garden after raising them from caterpillars.


Laurel Ridge students prepare milkweed seeds for cold stratification.

Student leadership grew as a Penny Race was conducted by our SCA to raise funds for the plants in the gardens. Open work days continue to be scheduled during which a large cross section of parents, community members and students work together to create and maintain the garden spaces.

We cannot thank NAESP and MetLife Foundation enough for encouraging our students and assisting our efforts to beautify our environment by helping us to create spaces for our native plant species to flourish and be studied. It is my sincere belief that through their direct involvement the children have both a deeper understanding as well as appreciation for their native surroundings and stewardship of the global environment.

Read more about Laurel Ridge Elementary’s international garden and outdoor learning lab in “Spring Planting at Laurel Ridge Elementary,” posted 4/29/2013.

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Sharing the Dream

Grants for pre-K-8 school projects that create global classrooms where children—and families—can safely connect, exchange ideas and learn together.

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