Trinidad HS outdoor classroom inspires

TRINIDAD — Three years ago, with guidance from science teacher Zeb Williamson and help and donations from community businesses, students at Trinidad High School took a 30 by 40 foot school courtyard and transformed it into a living outdoor classroom. Bar Ni Community Service Fund gave Earth Mountain Farm a 2011 Growing Healthy Through Growing Gardens grant as initial funding. Tom Perry of Bar Ni explained, “Everyone involved agreed the project should be curriculum-based and not just an after-school project. Williamson and Earth Mountain Farm designed a Botany elective class that initiated the project. Carter Morris of Earth Mountain and I visited periodically, offering sustainable-design-systems and horticulture knowledge.” Morris praised the students’ commitment, “The students diligently planned, designed, and educated themselves on all facets of facilitating the project.” Perry added, “The kids were proud their Living Classroom would be a continuous part of their school. They never thought they could do something so big or transformational. Earth Mountain encourages public school environmental education. They helped maximize the benefits of that under-utilized space at the school, creating a medium for teaching sustainable agriculture. Earth Mountain is a support system for the Living classroom.” Williamson explained how the garden ended up in the school courtyard. “We considered the tennis courts, but they were built on sandy soil. I was thinking the courtyard and Earth Mountain’s Joni Steiner agreed. Administration said, ‘Yes.’ The garden vision was student-based from beginning to end.” When Williamson presented a slide show of different kinds of gardens, the students said, “We need a stream. Let’s have an island.” When he suggested food sources, the students said, “Trout in the pond.” According to Williamson, “I emphasized they’d get what they put into it. They didn’t let anyone down, especially themselves.” Six groups of students drew up designs; then one student answered questions for each design while the other students walked around taking notes about their favorite aspects. Two other suggestions were building a deck and an area outside one door that didn’t lead to the rest of the space, an isolated spot to stand and look at the garden. Four students were chosen to integrate the best and favorite elements into a final design and student teams figured the details of each planned component. The math team calculated dimensions for a 6,000 gallon pond. The ecology team researched what the pond would need to be self-sustainable, how to filter the water and how to feed the trout. The garden team chose the fruits, vegetables, and herbs we’d grow. Fifteen students accomplished it all. Mr. Molter donated 12 tons of rock. It was piled in the parking lot and students hauled it in. Ed Vegas’ dad helped with the rock work. The water fall rock is fossilized palm frond donated by a student from their yard. They began in the fall of 2011, and it took until the following spring to complete. Seniors graduated in May. The two remaining juniors, Ed Vegas and Robert Lopez built the deck. With direction from Williamson and Earth Mountain, the goals of the garden will always be self-determined and stewarded by the students. Williamson was offered a life opportunity he’d always hoped to have, youth work for a church, but he will still be involved with the outdoor classroom. “I still want to work with the kids. I like what I did and who I worked with at Trinidad High, both students and staff. ” He explained what he sees for the garden’s future. “It has the potential to raise the awareness for healthy, responsible living. Look what fifteen kids did and see the possibilities of what we can all do with what we have to pass on what we know. ”I was offered a life opportunity I’d always hoped to have, youth work for a church.”