The Outdoor Classroom will post news, events, progress and milestones to this blog. Be sure to bookmark the page or visit often so you can see the progress we are making to transform the courtyard into a vibrant, inspiring place to learn!

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Spring Workday Postponed: Now March 27th!

Posted on March 20, 2015 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Mother Nature has asked us to postpone the Outdoor Classroom Spring Workday again! We are going to try something different this time – the workday will now be scheduled from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. on FRIDAY, MARCH 27. This is a no-school day for students and a Professional Day for Teachers. There are some advantages to holding the workday on Friday, but we realize there are some disadvantages, too, and that some families will not be able to attend. We hope, though, that as many families as possible can use the day to come out and help the schools get the Outdoor Classroom ready for spring programs.


Please attend the Outdoor Classroom Workday on *FRIDAY, MARCH 27, FROM 10 A.M. – 3 P.M.* Below is a description of the workday – we hope to see you!





POSTPONED TO FRIDAY, MARCH 27 (No School for Students; Professional Day for Teachers); 10 - 3




· AMEND AND TURN OVER SOIL IN SALAD BEDS AND GARDENS. Last year’s planting spaces need to be readied for this year’s planting. Weed, add compost, and turn over soil to get ready for this year’s gardens.










Come to the large courtyard (enter near the Sligo Creek cafeteria; there will be directions from the school entrances) anytime between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. FRIDAY, MARCH 27TH. We will have coffee and snacks while supplies last. Please bring gloves, shovels and spades, hand pruners, trowels, rakes, and wheelbarrows if you have them. *Label EVERYTHING with your name.* Students can get SSL hours for helping. We encourage kids to come and help, and we hope to see you there!

March 2015 Update

Posted on March 20, 2015 at 4:40 PM Comments comments (0)

Hi Outdoor Classroom Committee – it looks like Spring is actually going to come this year (notwithstanding tomorrow’s forecasted snow)! We have a number of upcoming programs and events, and lots of needs for volunteers. Please read on for a summary and opportunities to get involved (or more involved)! J

Spring Outdoor Classroom Workday: Saturday, March 21, 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

The workgroup team is intensively planning activities for Saturday’s workday, in order to get the Outdoor Classroom (OC) ready for spring programs. The list of jobs includes weeding, wheelbarrowing, amending soil, and turning over all the spaces for spring planting – including the raised beds, salad tables, the Three Sisters Garden and the Colonial gardens. We’ll be making watering cans and plant labels, and Lisa and David are working on a new activity: making a human sun dial! Tim Abrahams will again donate compost, and we’ll wheelbarrow that up into the OC and use it to amend soil. *We will need wheelbarrows for this job. If you can bring a wheelbarrow to the workday on Saturday, please do!*

PLEASE PLAN TO COME AND HELP AT THE SPRING WORKDAY!!!! Bring Shovels, spades, gloves and trowels, and extras if you have them to share, and LABEL EVERYTHING WITH YOUR NAME. We hope to see you there! SSL hours are available, and coffee and snacks are available while supplies last.

Nearing Final arrangements for Stage Construction

We are in negotiations with MCPS and their contractor, which has put a bid in for stage construction. The bid slightly exceeds the amount we are able to pay, but we hope that the contractor will be willing to donate some of its labor and fees to this volunteer project. Our hope is still for the stage to be built this spring or summer. If anyone is interested in the finer details of these discussions, please let me know.

Edible Garden Programs

The leaders of the edible garden programs are hard at work planning this year’s edibles programs – the K – 3 Salad Growing Program, the 4th grade Three Sisters Garden, the 5th Grade Colonial Garden and the SSIMS Green Team plantings. A call for volunteers to help with these programs will go out once the teachers’ schedules are finalized – please keep an eye on this space for that call for volunteers!

February 2015 Update

Posted on February 13, 2015 at 12:40 AM Comments comments (0)

We’ve gone a long time without an update, so below is a brief review of where we stand on Outdoor Classroom programs.

1. Stage Construction

We have been working closely with MCPS to finalize details for the stage construction. MCPS is recruiting final bids for construction, and we expect to have the final revised bids in the next two weeks. MCPS is hopeful we will be able to begin construction of the stage this spring, possibly even beginning construction over spring break. Below is a diagram of the most recent schematic MCPS contractors are using. With the $25,000 grant we received from Westfield Mall, we will have in the neighborhood of $30,000 - $35,000 to spend on the stage; MCPS has cautioned us that this amount of money will buy a very basic structure, and the incoming bids will include options to lower costs.

2. Edible Gardens

Both SSIMS and Sligo Creek ES are set to do edible garden programs again this spring! The SSIMS Green Team will be growing vegetables and herbs as part of Audubon Naturalist Society’s GreenKids Salad Science Program – and they have already started some of their seeds indoors! At Sligo Creek, grades K – 3 will be growing salad ingredients like lettuces, spinach, carrots, peas, and radishes, and harvesting them to have “salad parties” supported by our local Whole Foods. Grade 4 will be growing a “Three Sisters” garden – a Native American planting technique for corn, beans, and squash; and Grade 5 will be growing a Colonial Garden, planting vegetables and herbs that would have been grown by early American colonists. The leaders of each of these programs (Jes Skillman and Margrit Wong for K – 3; Jes Skillman and Nichole Bennett for 4th; and Sandhya Mehta for 5th) will be recruiting volunteers to help with these springtime programs! If you know now that you’d like to help, please let me know.

3. Recruiting Volunteer Leaders

We are making a push this year to recruit volunteer leaders to lead Outdoor Classroom programs. Thank you to all of the people who have already volunteered! If you would like to be part of the leadership team for the Outdoor Classroom, please let me know. As part of the Leadership Team, you could either volunteer to take on leadership of a particular project (see chart below), or simply participate in the core decision making team for the Outdoor Classroom. Note that we will still send large decisions (like significant financial expenditures) around to the whole Committee before the decision is finalized.

4. Spring Workday – Saturday, March 14: Mark your Calendars!

We will hold our annual Outdoor Classroom Spring Workday on Saturday, March 14, from (exact times TBD) approximately 9:30 – 2 p.m. We’ll be weeding, amending soil and doing other jobs to get the Outdoor Classroom ready for the spring season!

That’s the update for now – I’ll do another update including fundraising in the near future. Thank you for your involvement in the SCES/SSIMS Outdoor Classroom!

October 2014 Update: Volunteers Needed!

Posted on October 13, 2014 at 2:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Volunteer Leader Needs

Before the updates, I am describing here some priority needs we have for the Outdoor Classroom programs. The continued growth and success of the Outdoor Classroom depends on recruiting additional volunteer leaders to take on pieces of the Outdoor Classroom work. Along with the chair(s) of the Outdoor Classroom Committee, these leaders will form the core planning and strategic leadership for the Outdoor Classroom. I’ve taken a stab at showing and describing below these volunteer leader positions, in addition to giving a rough idea of the time commitment for each position. Please take a look and let me know if you’d be willing to do any of these jobs (some of you have already indicated your interest and I or someone will get back to you in the next week or so to discuss). Thank you for considering contributing your time for these jobs!

Committee Chair, SSIMS: Committee Co-Chair from SSIMS

Edible Gardens Program Coordinator (10 hours/week during growing season): work with parents and teachers to schedule, train, and coordinate volunteers to assist in springtime planting programs. Schedule and organize salad parties for K – 3rd grade. Springtime planting programs currently include the following:

· K – 3 salad planting, thinning, and harvesting. Students plant lettuces, carrots, radishes, peas and water them for 6 weeks. Students harvest the salad fixings and Whole Foods Silver Spring supports “salad parties.”

· Fourth grade plants Native American “Three Sisters” gardens – corn, beans and squash. Lesson plan available.

· Fifth grade plants Colonial Kitchen garden. Lesson plan available.


Please note that a volunteer leader could choose to limit their responsibilities by working only with one grade.

Monarch Sister School Program Coordinator (unsure of time commitment; this is a new position): Work with (primarily) second grade teachers to develop the MSSP program, expand the habitat for monarchs on the school campuses, create learning opportunities for students.

Work Day Coordinator (5 hours/week, one week in September and one week in March or April only): work with school principals to schedule and organize Fall (usually September) and Spring (April) Outdoor Classroom Workdays.

Fundraising Coordinator (2 hours/week year-round): Work with Educational Foundation, PTA and other volunteers to identify grant and other fundraising opportunities for Outdoor Classroom and Outdoor Education programs. Work with volunteers to complete applications and any reporting requirements.

Stage Construction Coordinator (2-3 hours/week until project completion): work with Outdoor Classroom Committee Chairs and Design Workgroup to coordinate the process of stage construction in the Outdoor Classroom.

*And now for the exciting re-caps:*

Outdoor Classroom Awarded $25,000 from Westfield Malls!!

As the recipient of the Westfield Works Wonders grant program, the Outdoor Classroom was awarded $25,000 from Westfield Malls, which will be used to construct a stage. Principals Swift and Haas, and 5th grader Lucy Attis and 8th grader Aiswarya Suriaprakash, both of whom are leaders in their Green Teams, were on hand to receive the funding on behalf of our schools. On the night of the award, Westfield also hosted two dining fundraisers at Chipotle and Elevation Burger, which (combined) earned another $813 for the stage. In addition, the Westfield Mall in Annapolis has pledged to donate all the change from their fountain from the month of October to the Outdoor Classroom (they estimate this change could total $1,000 - $2,000).

The Tower Companies Beautify/Make SCES Campus More Sustainable

As part of their Green Apple Day of Service, The Tower Companies brought 30 employees to Sligo Creek ES to clear an overgrown area near the front drop-off circle, amend the soil and plant an all-native garden, which will reduce pollution going into Sligo Creek and provide habitat to migrating monarch butterflies. This project will support Sligo Creek’s participation in the Monarch Sister Schools Project, in which we pledged to help monarch populations by increasing their habitat. Tower Companies also weeded and mulched in the area by the drop-off circle. We are looking forward to partnering with them again next year on a new project!

Fall OC Workday

Families weeded the conservation landscape and colonial garden, cleared the salad beds and lined the conservation landscape paths with rocks. They mulched the gardens, watered newly-planted native perennials and beautified both campuses. In addition, students harvested three huge buckets full of carrots remaining from the spring planting program. The (many, many) carrots were washed and delivered to Shepherd’s Table, a local food bank, for preparation in meals there. SSIMS volunteers also hosted a SSIMS Beautification Day in coordination with the OC Workday, so we got a lot of Beautifying done!

Announcing Partnership With Westfield Malls

Posted on September 26, 2014 at 6:45 AM Comments comments (0)

We are thrilled to announce that the Sligo Creek ES/SSIMS Outdoor Classroom project has been awarded $25,000 from Westfield Malls as part of their Westfield Works Wonders Grant program. We have agreed with Westfield Malls to put this funding toward a new stage that will be built in the Outdoor Classroom. The design for this stage (see below!) has been provided as a pro-bono project by Perkins + Will, a DC-based architectural firm with a commitment to sustainability and community involvement.



Please Join Us for the Presentation of a $25,000 check to Sligo Creek Elementary School and Silver Spring International Middle School


Tuesday, September 30, from 5– 6 p.m., at Westfield Mall (location within Mall TBD)


AND…..Eat At Elevation Burger or Chipoltle at the Westfield Wheaton Mall from 6 – 8 p.m. Sept. 30 and earn money for the schools by mentioning the Outdoor Classroom!



What: Westfield Mall representatives will present an (oversized) $25,000 check to Ms. Swift and Mr. Haas, the principals of the schools, in an event at Westfield Mall. A reception with light finger food and non-alcoholic drinks will take place from 5 – 6 that evening. All are welcome – please come and show support for the schools! Also, please eat at Elevation Burger* (in Westfield Mall) anytime between 6 and 8 that evening and mention the Outdoor Classroom and/or Sligo Creek or SSIMS. Twenty percent of their profits from these receipts will go to support the schools.



When: 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. with a short check presentation at 5:30.

From 6 p.m. – 8 p.m., Elevation Burger will host a “20% Night,” in which they will donate 20% of the proceeds from anyone who mentions the Outdoor Classroom (or either SSIMS or Sligo Creek ES). Chipotle is also donating 50% of the proceeds from customers mentioning the project to from 6-8 pm  pm.



Where: The reception/check presentation event will be held in a public area of Westfield Mall – exact location TBD.



*Elevation Burger is dedicated to using fresh, local ingredients such as organic, grass-fed, free-range beef. Elevation Burger offers a choice of various meat and veggie burgers, toppings, side dishes, milkshakes/malts, and fountain drinks



Thank you Volunteers for Work Day!

Posted on September 26, 2014 at 6:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Thank you Sligo Creek and SSIMS Families!!




A big thanks to the hardworking students and parents who came out on Saturday to help weed and tidy the Outdoor Classroom and beautify the SSIMS and SCES campuses. We got a LOT done – as the pictures above attest, families weeded the conservation landscape and colonial garden, cleared the salad beds and lined the conservation landscape paths with rocks. They mulched the gardens, watered newly-planted native perennials and beautified both campuses. In addition, students harvested three huge buckets full of carrots remaining from the spring planting program. The (many, many) carrots were washed and will be delivered to Shepherd’s Table, a local food bank, this week for preparation in meals there. We owe an enormous thanks to Tim and Brandon Abrahams and their crew for donating lots of equipment, tons of mulch, flowers and most importantly manpower to the beautification effort.




Conservation Landscape

Raise edible garden beds


Three Sisters Garden

Colonial Garden

Green Apple Day of Service Accomplishments:

Last week’s Green Apple Day of Service was also extremely successful. We are grateful to 25 Tower Companies Employees, with over 100 on-site volunteer hours last week, who planted nearly 300 SF of native plants to help the Monarch Sister Schools Program at Sligo Creek Elementary School and to improve water quality in Sligo Creek. These employees were responsible for the change you can see in the drop-off circle (pictures immediately above), for trimming the 2 large holly trees on the corner of the entrance sidewalk and mulching around the school entranceway. They laid over 7 cubic yards of new mulch to help beautify the school and provide a welcoming entrance for parents, students, and teachers every day. 

A HUGE thanks to the Tower Companies and their wonderful partners: Brickman, who donated the native perennials, mulch, onsite guidance and tools, Friends of Sligo Creek, who donated onsite guidance and many tools, and various staff members from Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS).





Sligo Creek ES Leaders 

A friend we found living in the mulch

Green Apple Day of Service Today!

Posted on September 18, 2014 at 9:50 AM Comments comments (0)

I wanted to let you know about an exciting event happening today, Thursday, Sept. 18, at Sligo Creek ES. We are lucky enough to be partnering with The Tower Companies, which owns and manages the Blair apartment buildings on East-West Hwy (among other properties), in their annual Green Apple Day of Service. Because so many of their residents attend SCES and/or SSIMS, they approached us some months ago to partner on projects that will benefit the students and families of the schools.



About 30 Tower Companies volunteers will be on the SCES campus tomorrow to clear the area close to the car drop-off circle that is currently overgrown with weeds and to install new plantings. We have worked together to design an all-native garden in the space, which will reduce pollution going into Sligo Creek and provide habitat to migrating monarch butterflies. This project will support Sligo Creek’s participation in the Monarch Sister Schools Project, in which we pledged to help monarch populations by increasing their habitat. Tower Companies volunteers will also do additional weeding and mulching in the area by the drop-off circle. As a follow up to the Day of Service on the 18th, we will plant some additional plants in this area at the Outdoor Classroom Workday/Beautification Day on the 20th.



Please note we are not asking for any volunteers – I just wanted you to know what is going on when you see all the activity near the drop-off circle! The Tower Companies volunteers will have a big banner announcing their work – please feel free to drop by and thank them for their service to our school! Thank you for your support of this work and this wonderful partnership with The Tower Companies.

Outdoor Classroom Update September 2014

Posted on September 17, 2014 at 5:30 AM Comments comments (0)

Hello Outdoor Classroom Committee!

I hope you all had a good summer and are ready to start thinking about the Sligo Creek ES/SSIMS Outdoor Classroom again. There is a lot going on again this fall – below are two events happening this week. We hope to see you at Saturday’s workday! (*Please do not hesitate to let me know if you’d like to be removed from this list.*)

Outdoor Classroom Workday: Saturday, September 20

Please save Saturday, September 20 for the Sligo Creek/SSIMS Outdoor Classroom Workday and Beautification! As part of our Outdoor Classroom program, we hold two annual workdays – in the Fall and in the Spring. We need families to help us get rid of weeds and generally clean up the Outdoor Classroom for the school year. This year, we’re combining the day with additional work around the SSIMS and Sligo Creek campuses to beautify and make them more environmentally friendly. Please come help (and be ready to get dirty) – bring your own weeding tools, gloves, hedge pruners, trowels and spades if possible. We will have donuts, bagels, juice and coffee while supplies last! *Students can earn SSL hours* No experience necessary!



Green Apple Day of Service, Thursday, September 18



On Thursday, Sept. 18, Sligo Creek ES is lucky to be partnering with a local company, the Tower Companies, in their annual Green Apple Day of Service. The Tower Companies own and manage the Blair apartments on East-West Highway. Because so many of their residents attend SCES and/or SSIMS, they approached us some months ago to partner on projects that will benefit the students and families of the schools. Tower Companies volunteers will be on the SCES campus Thursday, Sept. 28, to clear the area close to the drop-off circle that is currently overgrown with weeds. We have worked together to design an all-native garden in the space, which will reduce pollution going into Sligo Creek and provide habitat to migrating monarch butterflies. Volunteers will install these plantings on the Day of Service. This project will also support Sligo Creek’s participation in the Monarch Sister Schools Project, in which we pledged to help monarch populations by increasing their habitat. As a follow up to the Day of Service on the 18th, we plan to plant some additional plants in that area on the 20th. Please note we are not asking for any volunteers on the 18th.



Organizing for Future Outdoor Classroom Work



One of the priorities this year will be to sign on more Sligo Creek and SSIMS parents to take on leadership roles in the Outdoor Classroom programs. I am working on some resources to make it easier to understand what some of these leadership roles could be and what types of commitments they might entail, but they include leading the salad planting/harvesting programs in the spring (and possibly the fall in the future), leading other seasonal garden growing programs, leading fundraising efforts, and leading maintenance efforts and organizing fall/spring workdays. New leadership in these roles is vital to the continued health of the outdoor classroom programs, so please think about a role you might be willing to take on. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss!



Outdoor Classroom Update May 2014

Posted on May 20, 2014 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (0)

One month of school to go! I wanted to give an update of where we are, what’s coming next and an idea of volunteer needs. We are scheduled to have our last OC Committee meeting tomorrow, Tuesday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m. in the Sligo Creek Teachers’ Lounge. *If you are able and planning to attend Tuesday night, please RSVP.* Thanks!

Edible Gardens Growing – Need to thin plants, water, weed, harvest and (salad) party!

The edible gardens are growing! K – 3rd grades are growing salad fixings, 4th grade is growing the Three Sisters, 5th grade is growing the Colonial Gardens, and the SSIMS Green Team is growing salad fixings and more. For the elementary school, we need volunteers to weed these areas, water these areas (the students are watering; we just need to do backup “spot” watering) and help with thinning the crops grown from seeds that are growing too close together. The K- 3 Salad parties are scheduled for Friday, May 6, so we’ll need help with harvesting and washing produce on Thursday, May 5, and volunteers to help prepare, serve kids, and clean up on Friday, May 6. Please keep save these dates if you’re able to volunteer.

Whole Foods Partnership

Once again, Whole Foods Silver Spring will help make our Salad Parties possible by donating extra toppings and salad dressing. In addition, a Healthy Eating Specialist will visit the school during the Salad Parties to talk with children about "eating the rainbow" and the importance of eating healty fruits and vegetables.

Building the Stage During the Summer

As you know, we have been working with Perkins + Will over the last few months to design our stage. We are ready to put the design out to bidders with the intention of completing construction over the summertime. Our goal is to have a grand opening of the stage when school returns in September. If anyone would like to be involved in these events, please let me know.

Westfield partnership

We met with our Westfield Works Wonders partners last week to discuss their contribution to the construction of the stage, plus some additional fundraising from their retail sites to fill in any fundraising gaps (they told us that loose change from the fountain at their Annapolis location could contribute an additional donations!). We are on track to receive that funding over the summer for construction.

Landscaping Stage Area through Green Apple Day of Service, September 2014

We are planning to partner with the Tower Companies, a local real estate company, to participate in their Green Apple Day of Service in September 2014 to landscape the new stage area. It will be an exciting project involving landscaping, planting, and organizing. If you would like to be part of the planning/leadership for this project, please let me know.

Planning to Build a Pond!

We are in the planning stage of building a pond for the outdoor classroom. This pond may include such features as a bridge and a “wetland” or “marsh” area extending from it to allow teachers to teach about the different biomes in our area. We will take a trip to Tuckahoe Elementary School in Arlington, VA, to revisit their courtyard, where they have incorporated examples of many of these different regional biomes. Libby Bingham is leading this effort – please let her know if you’d like to be involved and/or join the trip to Tuckahoe ES. Libby can be reached at [email protected]

"School Gardens grow kids' physical activity levels"

Posted on March 26, 2014 at 3:30 PM Comments comments (0)

A new report from Cornell on school gardens:

School gardens grow kids' physical activity levels


ByTed Boscia

A new study reports that children in schools with vegetable gardens got 10 minutes more of exercise than before their schools had gardens.

To get schoolchildren moving, uproot them from classrooms into school gardens, concludes a two-year Cornell study of 12 elementary schools in five New York regions.


By experiment’s end, kids at schools with gardens were moderately physically active at school for 10 more minutes a week than before their schools had gardens. That was an increase of four times what peers experienced at gardenless schools. What’s more, children who gardened at school were substantially less sedentary at home and elsewhere than their counterparts.


With nearly one in three American children overweight or obese, school gardens could be a simple, low-cost way to get kids more active, said environmental psychologist Nancy Wells, associate professor of design and environmental analysis in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology.


School gardens could be a simple, low-cost way to get kids more active and fight obesity.

She presented the findings March 11 at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Active Living Research Conference in San Diego.


“This is the first true experiment to measure the effects of school gardens on children’s physical activity, and we found a significant increase,” Wells said. “It is notable that in our intervention, kids were only spending an hour or two per week in the gardens, yet there was a significant difference in physical activity. The findings suggest that if schools embraced gardens further and integrated them into lesson plans, there might be an even greater effect.”


Schools in six New York counties (Delaware, Monroe, Rockland, Schenectady, Suffolk and Wayne), working with leaders in the Urban Environment Program at Cornell University Cooperative Extension-New York City, planted gardens as part of the national U.S. Department of Agriculture Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth project. Wells leads the research for the project, which includes schools in Arkansas, Iowa and Washington and is testing how such gardens influence kids’ preferences for and knowledge and consumption of fruits and vegetables.


The Cornell research team used surveys and accelerometers worn by children for three consecutive school days on four separate occasions to measure changes in kids’ physical activity during the school day. In addition, surveys captured children’s general activity and sedentary patterns – including time at home. At four schools, they also used a direct observation tool to compare children’s movements and postures in garden-based and traditional classroom lessons.


Learning in a garden induced children to be “significantly more physically active” compared to an indoor class, said Beth Myers, a doctoral student in the field of design and environmental analysis who assisted with the study. On average, children sat for 84 percent and stood for 10 percent of an indoor class. During garden lessons, kids moved about much more, sitting for only 15 percent of the time, with the majority of their time spent standing, walking and kneeling.


Wells, who has studied how access to nature boosts kids’ mental and physical health, said the findings show that “school gardens are an effective way to begin to nudge kids toward their 60 minutes of daily activity,” a level recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and promoted by First Lady Michelle Obama’s national “Let’s Move” campaign.


Given the limited scope of this intervention, Wells said the next step would be to “design ways to make it easy for schools to adopt garden-based lessons” more widely into their curricula.


The study, not yet published, was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Active Living Research Program, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service and Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.