Volunteers renovate, beautify the Clague Middle School courtyard in `town-gown’ collaboration

Video by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News

Story by Karleigh Stone/weloveannarbor.com

Who wants to stare at an overgrown, unusable and potentially dangerous garden all day? Probably no one. However, the students, staff and faculty at Clague Middle School were forced to for years as they looked out hallway windows into the school’s courtyard.

The invasive species buckthorn was thriving and warning signs of poison ivy were posted (though none was ever found).  PTO president, Margaret Baker, described it as a “complete jungle.”

But a four-year renovation turned this jungle into a paradise.

“In December 2014, I came on as president and I saw this space as something that needed to be developed,” she says. “We had two main goals – to make it usable and sustainable.”

Baker says she wants any PTO board to come in and be able to keep it going.

“I’ve talked to old-timers who have said ‘I remember when there were lights in the trees’ or ‘I remember there was a pond,’ so people have tried over the years.”

The courtyard is now designed to be easily manageable so today’s efforts will last.

After Mary Berry’s Gardening raised the space initially, all of the work was done by volunteers including: parents, former Clague students now Huron High School National Honor Society members and members of Huron Hills Church. Any money that was donated to help, was donated by parents and filtered through the PTO.

Additionally, Clague’s Girl Scout troop is creating signage the will identify the courtyard and the various spaces within it.

These volunteers laid woodchips, put limestone rocks down to create paths and completed a general “dismantling” of the overgrown foliage.

And, it’s not just for looks. Clague’s courtyard is home to many activities for students.

“The courtyard renovations have afforded students the opportunity to fully utilize our outdoor space,” science teacher, Jeffrey Taylor says. “Our learners have cleaned and updated the grounds, planted rain gardens, and calculated the impact trees have on storm water. Students now have a peaceful location to eat lunch, play a game, read a book, or simply enjoy nature.”

Baker adds: “Recently, we had a partnership with the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commission and completed this amazing project that involved trees and water retention and the students put all their data in a measuring program and learned what each tree retained in terms of storm water. It was a genuine science project that dove-tailed with the science curriculum which had been another vision from the beginning.”

She says the new space gives Clague an identity that students, parents, teachers and alumni can be proud of.

“They’re starting to think of it as something that’s special to Clague which was always my dream,” Baker says. “This is what Clague is.”

The work done to restore the courtyard was possible because of the support of principals,
Ché Carter and Jennifer Daddow, who are “so easy to work with and so student focused.” She also credits her “faithful” PTO board.

“It’s very encouraging to see something like this that’s so concrete that’s happened,” Baker says.



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