With schools receiving funding for stormwater management infrastructure, we saw an opportunity to discuss the schools’ landscape design as a whole. At Glenridge, we learned from staff how their outdoor courtyard was underutilized. Without proper infrastructure, or the tools and skills to plan lessons in these spaces, teachers felt intimidated by outdoor learning, and building services did not have the capacity for additional landscaping or investment.
The Department of the Environment of Prince George’s County noticed many nonprofit partners working to improve schools’ environmental impact, and began holding meetings to coordinate our efforts. NDC contributed our design services to bring high-quality, creative and functional designs to outdoor classrooms. By pairing this work with the work being done by other organizations (environmental education, staff training, as well as Best Management Practices (BMPs) such as stormwater management landscaping), we were able to amplify our collective impact.
This is the real innovative quality of the Treating and Teaching collaboration: its broad base of support and subsequent holistic coverage. Teachers receive training, schools receive infrastructure, and students get special lessons all centered on environmental awareness and sustainable design. Maintenance is assured through professional development workshops for building services managers and support staff.
Every outdoor classroom is designed specifically for its school by incorporating teacher and staff site knowledge and preference with landscape design best management practices. We developed a conceptual design for the space with emphasis on unique extracurricular uses and curriculum in mind. Glenridge is home to an award-winning robotics program. Fifth and sixth grade students engage in the principles of STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) while learning to program and code a robot. A vision emerged to use textures of varied surface to create an obstacle course for the robotics students to test their creations.
NDC landscape designers Marita Roos and Laura Kendrick collaborated with Glenridge Elementary School faculty and staff and the Anacostia Watershed Society to create this outdoor classroom space.
Students actively participated in planting and arranging the classroom during installation, giving them hands-on insight into how the plants contribute to cleaner water within their watershed.
Since 2017, the Treating and Teaching program has worked with over 30 schools, improving learning opportunities for students through green infrastructure
NDC is proud to have designed four of the six outdoor classrooms built since 2017.
By connecting the robotics program to the environment, possibilities for new sustainability curriculum abound.
In addition to Glenridge, we also worked with three other schools to implement or improve outdoor learning spaces; Walker Mill Middle and Capitol Heights Elementary in 2017, and Oxon Hill Middle in 2018. We hope to continue to work with Anacostia Watershed Society and the Department of the Environment until every school in the region has dynamic outdoor learning space.