Fort Mill Times

Bethel Elementary School sowing seeds for learning

Bethel Elementary School’s back courtyard is undergoing a makeover, thanks to staff, student, parent and community support.

A couple of dozen or more people showed up for a few hours the morning of Sept. 27 to tear out shrubbery and other plants in the center of the yard to make way for a new learning tool – an outdoor garden classroom.

“I can explore what’s under all this stuff,” said Skylan Wilson, 8, raking out pine needles and weeds. The third-grader was excited to find two worms and lots of night crawlers.

Once the half-acre area is transformed, Wilson and all students will be able to explore much more. The garden will include flowers, vegetables and herbs; sensory areas, a rock garden, a pond, a living wall with succulents and weather equipment for observations.

“The goal is to have a little bit of everything for children to experience each year they are there at the school,” said Larissa Pitts, PTO project leader with two students in the school.

Principal Kim Ramsey said having the garden provides hands-on experience, and not just for science.

Some students have already found new lessons in the project. Third-grader Owen Bangert, 8, said he wanted to spend his Saturday morning helping at the school because “one day I could be a helper for a company when I grow up.”

The fourth- and fifth-graders are researching and planning the project.

“They are doing this from the bottom up using their iPads, and researching how to keep everything watered and designed,” Ramsey said. “They are taking ownership, and it’s absolutely wonderful.”

There also will be a common patio area for the classroom and picnic tables where students can listen to presentations.

“I’m pretty excited about this,” said parent Simone Sedillo of York, who was working with the family including husband Patrick and their two daughters.

Ramsey said the students will present their plans in about two weeks. Then York County Master Gardener Jed Bryan of Rock Hill said he will support “whatever the kids come up with as a plan, and help them make the right choice in plants and recommendations for native plants.”

“There will be all kinds of opportunities to create different micro-environments,” he said.

The money to recreate the space is coming from a $5,000 Lowe’s Toolbox for Education Grant and $4,000 from Lake Wylie Rotary Club through Rotary International, Pitts said.

“It’s always great to help the community any way we can,” said Rotarian Ed Lindsey, who was volunteering during Saturday’s prep day.

Pitts, who started grant writing about a year ago, said she has checked out the outdoor gardening spaces at Larne Elementary and Clover Middle schools.

“$9,000 to work with is amazing for a little school, which is turning 85 this year,” she said. “It’s going to be a well-rounded educational experience, better than a book or video.”

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