When Rebecca Ricketts joined the staff of Clarkson Elementary, she brought an idea she’d seen in action at her former school. Over the following years, she planted the seeds to make it a reality, culminating this year with two new outdoor learning spaces — a chicken coop and a greenhouse.
Knowing the district was exploring outdoor learning spaces as a result of COVID, Ricketts believed the time was right to propose the idea, and with the approval of principal Shannon Cates and district Superintendent Doug Robinson, she was off. The entire Ricketts family pitched in, as a host of community businesses partnered with the school to bring together all the pieces.
The Grayson County Rock Quarry supplied rock for the project, and Harry Carwile brought it to the school. Trackside Rentals provided needed equipment, Midsouth Lumber and Jerry Weedman, the lumber to build planter boxes, raised beds and tables. Kindergarten aide Priscilla Allen’s husband, Jim, built the beds and tables. Snap’s Farm and Feed and Alan Gibson have graciously kept the chickens fed and in hay.
“There is no way this could have come together without the help of these businesses, staff families and parents,” said Cates. “We’re excited for all the new life skills and learning opportunities this will give our kids.”
Both spaces offer personal, hands-on experience in following plant and animal life cycles. They also provide learning windows into seemingly unrelated areas such as economics, math, even cooking, as gathered eggs were used in a Christmas cookie baking project before the holiday break.
Ricketts hopes to begin planting vegetables and flowers in February, for a possible spring sale. She is working with Pineview Nursery to provide soil, and the school will seek grant funding from the Extension office to order plants. Snap’s Farm and Feed has also committed to donating some of the vegetable seeds that will be needed.
Students will help decide what’s grown, depending on supply at the time. And Ricketts already has strawberry plants waiting for them at her house.
She describes herself as a very hands-on learner, and is excited that students will now “have that connection with a backyard garden, and the knowledge to be able to work through the process and experience these cycles themselves.”
She also notes that with a combination of in-ground and raised beds, plus a classroom area complete with log seating, “there’s a lot of variety in the use of the space, too.”
In time, she would like to create an eating garden at school and have outdoor beds as well.
“It’s a living classroom, accessible to everyone, with plenty of space to expand,” she said.