Carpenter debuts renovated courtyard that will serve as a living learning space

 Story and photos by Jo Mathis
AAPS District News Editor

Carpenter Elementary’s renovated courtyard will serve as an outdoor science classroom aimed at helping children understand the natural world around them.

“We wanted to make the inner courtyard into a more manageable learning space,” said Ann Borders, who wrote the $500 Chartwel grant for the Farm to School Initiative with teachers April Pedit and Kill Koeppe. “Many of us teach life cycles as part of our science curriculum. What better way to do that than in the courtyard?”

Mrs. Archer’s fourth graders created fairy gardens in the courtyard.

She said ducks nest and grow in the courtyard every year and watching them grow has been a great way to encourage class participation.

“Now, with the bat house, butterfly garden plants and bird feeders along with manageable plants, we can expand our scope,” she said.

Kim Ulrich, who has a first grader at the school, was eager when the project began this spring to help beautify Carpenter and create an educational resource.


“Once the plants are in and we take care of them, that’s a free life cycle that we don’t have to buy every year,” she said. “So it not only helps the environment, but helps our kids take pride in our school and learn that there’s more to learning than just sitting in a classroom.”

Second grade teacher Jill Koeppe said the area will be used to complement the science curriculum.


“This courtyard is not only for the beautification of our school, but for community pride and getting the community to come together for a project that’s vested in our school,” she said. “It’s also about nature, and some of those naturalistic abilities that some of our students need to nurture their academic and social abilities, as well.”

The departing fifth graders gifted the school with the birdfeeders, hummingbird feeders, and bat house, which teachers will use to teach about life cycles.

As part of an Eagle Scout project this spring, 2016 Skyline High School Connor Ward got in touch with Carpenter to see what kind of help they could use to promote its Ann Arbor Farm to School Collaborative.

Connor Ward stands in the courtyard he helped renovate.

Ward rounded up about 30 other volunteers to repair the benches, and hang bird feeders.

“The ponds were just scum and alga and pretty gross,” he said.

So they cleaned the smaller pond and refilled it, and cleaned the large pond, refilled it, and installed a pond pump that filters the water.

They also constructed a garden box, divided hostas and planted other perennials throughout the courtyard garden.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Connor, of the final results. “It’s something students can really enjoy, whereas before it kind of looked like a dirt lot.”

Many others contributed to the effort. Parents Emily Schildhouse and Glenn Timpe each gave $100, while Home Depot and Lowe’s donated materials totaling about $350.

Outside, the raised beds will be cared for by families over the summer, with the hope that there will be herbs, lettuce, kale, carrots and greens in the fall.


Borders said that she and art teacher, Karen McDonald use the courtyard for its artistic value, and will be making and adding ceramic and metallic wind chimes next year to enhance the natural sound of the environment.

“It’s been a great learning experience for everyone,” she said.


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