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Amy Parks-Heath Elementary Brings Education Outdoors

(HEATH, TX — June 6, 2019) This past school year, kiddos channeled their green thumbs and learned all about nature thanks to a unique outdoor learning opportunity at Amy Parks-Heath Elementary School.

APHE Kindergartners, first and second graders took their studies outside the classroom to the APHE Outdoor Garden, where they learned all about plant life cycles through fun games and lessons. The kids experienced all the wonderful benefits shown by outdoor learning studies, including decreased stress levels, increased motivation, improved memory, enhanced communication skills and increased self-reliance.

“You can teach everything in a garden,” said APHE Outdoor Garden Coordinator L.B. Vestal. “Science and math are wonderful to do, because with math you can draw the garden to scale and study the proportions. Science of course is easy to teach in a garden through the life cycles of plants and butterflies. First grade English teachers are teaching their classes the proper way to write business letters and thank you notes for the garden donors. We also have kids come out and journal in the garden.”

L. B. Vestal teaches APHE students all about mint leaves

A True Group Effort

The APHE Outdoor Garden became a reality thanks to the tremendous support of many throughout the community. Local businesses, organizations, groups and families donated their time, supplies and money to help grow the garden for APHE kids to have a blast while learning about nature. Here are just a few examples of how partnering with the community helped plant the seed to make the APHE Garden possible.

  • The Healthy Zone Schools program got the garden started several years ago by providing APHE with a grant.
  • Living Earth donated several supplies, including soil to help fill the garden beds.
  • Steve’s Nursery generously donated truckloads of compost and other items for the garden.
  • Rockwall Garden Exchange lent weeds, leaves and horse manure and the Amy Parks-Heath cafeteria provided veggie scraps to create the garden’s first compost cycle.
  • WatchDOG dads volunteered for a day to help tend the garden with their kids’ classes.
  • Amy Parks-Heath sixth graders made a butterfly garden located in front of the school for migrating monarchs. The National Wildlife Federation certified the garden as a schoolyard habitat for monarch migration.

    The APHE Butterfly Garden

  • Wynnscapes Landscaping donated flowers most loved by butterflies and discussed them with APHE students.
  • Design Masters Landscaping provided rocks and compost to complete the butterfly garden.
  • Smile Ranch Dentistry donated butterfly and ladybug larvae kits along with Eric Carle books for APHE Kindergarteners and their second grade buddies.
  • The Rockwall Butterfly Brigade gave a presentation on the life cycle of butterflies for students.
  • Rockwall Master Gardeners taught students all about the abilities of worms as earth’s decomposers.
  • Grand Gardeners, the school’s garden club for grandparents, have enjoyed lots of fun adventures with their grandchildren in the garden. During Grand Week, the Grand Gardeners joined their grandkids’ classes in the garden to study the life cycle of plants.
  • Students with the ROCK after-school program continue to be the workhorses of the garden. They maintain the beds by watering and fertilizing multiple times per week.

    ROCK program students with APHE Garden Coordinator L. B. Vestal

Outdoor Learning Center

The outdoor garden brings APHE one step closer to realizing an even bigger dream: a fully-functioning outdoor learning center. Some APHE parents have volunteered their time to draw up a beautiful design which includes an open-air covered pavilion located behind the school near the garden. Even more garden beds, berry patches, fruit trees and trellises stocked with vegetables would span across the entire backside of the school campus.

The center would create all kinds of outdoor learning opportunities for students. With an outdoor classroom, kids can help seed, water, observe, record and harvest the garden beds and vegetable patches. They can track weather patterns with a weather station, weigh and record the daily harvest with a weigh station, tag and track butterflies in the butterfly garden, paint a picture of how a plant changes during its life cycle, and much more.

The APHE PTO began raising funds to build the Outdoor Learning Center last fall. Through the annual APHE Boosterthon Fun Run fundraiser, they raised $25,000. Earlier this spring, the APHE PTO held a silent auction benefitting the future Outdoor Learning Center and raised an additional $25,000.

APHE PTO Officer of Education Programs Michelle Mitchell said they’ll still need quite a bit more funds in order to begin construction. She and the rest of the parents hope to be able to honor the school with a completed Outdoor Learning Center next school year, when APHE celebrates its 25-year anniversary.

Buy a Brick, Leave a Legacy

Another ongoing fundraiser for the APHE Outdoor Learning Center is the engraved brick campaign. The APHE PTO invites area businesses to purchase an engraved brick for their future Outdoor Learning Center pavilion. Each personalized brick will have the APHE anchor logo and five lines for folks to write their own personal message. The 8×8 bricks cost $250 each and will border 4×8 bricks school families are purchasing for the pavilion.

Funds from the engraved brick campaign will benefit the Outdoor Learning Center project. Bricks may be purchased by cash, check or PayPal Invoice. For a brick order form contact Michelle Mitchell at mspy1229@yahoo.com.

Story and photos by Austin Wells, Blue Ribbon News.