the Neighborhood Design Center
Project No. 3320

Glenridge Elementary School: Creating quality outdoor learning space through cross-sector collaboration

Over four projects in the past two years, NDC has helped elementary and middle school students and teachers to engage with the outdoors. Through a collaboration between county government, public schools, and other nonprofits offering teacher training, stormwater BMPs, and our own outdoor classroom designs, Glenridge Elementary, along with other schools participating in the Treating and Teaching program, has become a hub for environmental learning.

What We Did

  • Space Planning
  • Community Engagment
  • Landscape Architecture
  • Tree Planting

Partners

  • The Anacostia Watershed Society
  • Bradley Site Design
  • Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin
  • Low Impact Development Center
  • Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education
  • Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission
  • Out Teach
  • William S. Schmidt Outdoor Education Center

Supporters

  • Prince George’s County Department of the Environment
  • Prince George’s County Public Schools
  • The Chesapeake Bay Trust
  • Clean Water Partnership
  • Corvias Solutions
  • Urban Health Institute

The Challenge: Use outdoor spaces as an educational opportunity 

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.

Investing in school campuses and school staff, united

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. 

The Vision: Student-teacher dreams, actualized

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.

The Plan: A mixed-use “Robot Garden” with native plantings

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.

“There is something very welcoming and inclusive about an oval-shaped space. It’s not totally equal, like a circle, so could have small groupings or one larger group. It’s more flexible, very comprehensible, accessible.”

Marita Roos, NDC Programs Director

The Build: Each step is a learning opportunity

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.

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Key Successes

2,889 students engaged

Since 2017, the Treating and Teaching program has worked with over 30 schools, improving learning opportunities for students through green infrastructure 

Four outdoor learning spaces built

NDC is proud to have designed four of the six outdoor classrooms built since 2017.

STEAM curriculum connected to outdoor space

By connecting the robotics program to the environment, possibilities for new sustainability curriculum abound.

The Future

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.