|Outdoor learning opportunities abound at Woodin|
|Written by Deborah Stone|
If you haven’t been to Woodin Elementary in a while, make it a point to stop by and take a look at the school.
Actually, take a walk around the outside of the place because that’s where some unique and exciting things are happening.
The site is blooming with gardens, from beds chock- full of edibles to an area devoted specifically to plants that attract butterflies.
And then there’s the outdoor classroom, an additional learning space for teachers and students, as well as a gathering area for parents before and after school.
Soon, student-constructed totems and cedar fence boards made on Northwest Coastal art day will be installed on the property, along with a large scale painted map of the state of Washington, created by one of the fourth grade classes.
And in the future, there’ll be more gardens, each with a different theme.
“We’re going to have a Native Northwest one,” explains parent volunteer Angela Johnson. “It’ll contain edibles that the Northwest Native Americans ate, such as huckleberries. There’s also going to be a colonial garden with corn, beans and squash, and then we’re going to have a cultural garden in honor of the Hispanic holiday, Dia de los Muertos. It will be full of marigolds, the symbolic flower of this celebration.”
Johnson notes that 26 percent of the student body at Woodin is Hispanic. The local woman, whose two children go to the school, has been at the helm of these outdoor projects, contributing hundreds of hours over the past few years to bring them to fruition.
She says, “My mission is to create gardens that are curriculum-related and artistic outdoor areas that give kids a place to rest, learn and enjoy being out in nature.”
Realizing that she would need to get community support for her ideas, Johnson began connecting with various organizations and companies that offer grants for environmental, educational and cultural purposes.
The first grant she received came from the East Lake Washington District of Garden Clubs, who gave $650 for the creation of an edible garden. Next came a $5,000 “Toolbox for Education” grant from Lowe’s Home Improvement, which went toward the construction of the outdoor classroom space that was completed last summer.
Several Woodin fathers constructed the tables and benches and a group of moms and kids dug trees out and spread ground cover.
Mack Ohnemus, a past Woodin student, who is now at Leota Junior High, built planter boxes around the space for his Eagle Scout project.
The butterfly garden was created with additional grant funds from the East Lake Washington District of Garden Clubs and the Woodinville Garden Club added a special dish rock, which holds water for the butterflies.
And then there’s a grant from Annie’s Naturals, which is being used for a summer sunflower growing contest.
“Think of all the learning that can take place with measuring, journaling and also the social connections whereby students need to develop a care plan for the seeds/plants with their current set of classmates to ensure maximum growth over the summer,” explains Johnson.
Materials for the additional three theme gardens, which will be completed next year, are courtesy of a $2,000 Yes to Carrots grant.
“We could never do any of this without grants,” notes Johnson. “What’s funny is that I had never written a grant before I started doing all of this. After doing the first one, I realized that it’s not that hard. You just follow the instructions. I like to write so it came pretty easy to me, but I didn’t know whether we’d be able to get any money. I was so happy when I got that first one. It made me want to apply for more and then the ideas have just kept rolling in.”
According to Woodin principal, Jill Crivello, Johnson is an excellent resource for the entire school community. She says, “When it comes to securing grants for outdoor educational spaces, Angela is a ‘money-making machine.’ She is all about providing environmental educational opportunities for our students and we sing her praises every day!”
The local woman, who grew up in Minnesota and spent summers on her grandfather’s farm, feels that it is important to instill an appreciation and respect for the environment in young children.
She says, “I want them to have a close relationship with nature. Nature is good and we must make sure to take care of it. We must be responsible caretakers. I also want them to understand where their food comes from and to show them how easy it is to grow your own food.”
Many of the students and teachers at Woodin refer to Johnson as the “Nature Lady” or “Garden Teacher.” She is a familiar presence at the school, where she spends upwards of 15 hours a week volunteering in a variety of capacities, but the gardens are her passion.
“Gardening provides a wonderful, hands-on learning experience,” comments Johnson. “And, there’s so much you can do to tie it to the curriculum. The first graders, for example, have a plant unit in the fall, so they come out to the gardens and learn about the parts of a plant. They see the roots, stems and petals, and they touch and feel them with their hands.”
Second graders study the life cycle of the butterfly and use the butterfly garden as an observation site. In third, fourth and fifth grades, there’s an emphasis on Native Americans.
“The theme gardens will be ideal for them,” adds Johnson.
Sixth graders took part in a plant sale fundraiser that the school had this past year. They planted the seeds, tended the plants as they grew and then subsequently sold them.
Librarian Stephanie Dunnewind created an entire research project for the sixth grade classes to engage in during the process.
Johnson stresses that she is not a one-woman operation. Her partner in crime is parent Dorothy Higashi. “She’s good with schematics and tools,” says Johnson. “My strengths are ideas and writing. We make a great team.”
She adds, “But, none of this would happen without all of the other people who put in the time and effort to help make things happen around here, from the kids and their parents to the teachers and staff. And then there is the community, which has been very supportive. It really does take a village.”
Johnson’s grant writing days are far from over. She believes such funding is necessary in order to continue to enhance Woodin’s learning environment.
She remarks, “I want people to know that even a Title I school can be fantastic and really big things can happen here even when the PTA is not the most lucrative in the district. This is a good school. We can be proud of this school.”