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Students Launch School Courtyard Beautification Project

When students at Northumberland Middle School walk into their courtyard now, they enter a place of pride. The bare space was once devoid of any color, artwork, or greenery. Thanks to the 7th-grade Community Problem Solvers (CmPS) group, it will soon have all of these, and much more. The students, members of the school’s TAG program, have been working hard for months on a Courtyard Beautification project which they hope to complete this summer. By July, they plan to have a shade tent, garden beds with native plants, chairs and benches, art murals, and an outdoor classroom. The CmPS program involves students in identifying problems in their school or community and working together to come up with a solution.

Photos: (Above) Painted stones in a rock garden spell out “PRIDE” – Politeness, Respect, Integrity, Determination, Excellence. (Below) Students work on a rock art project in the courtyard. See more photos in slideshow at bottom of article

Project director and NAPS board member, Shauna McCranie, is a firm believer in this kind of hands-on learning. “I think that Community Problem Solving is a learning tool that really invests students in real world projects-- problems that happen in their communities which they can solve with the help of each other,” McCranie said. “It teaches them that there is no problem too big to tackle with the help of others and collaboration.” The students launched their project by presenting a proposal to the school board and, not surprisingly, it was very well received by NMS principal Javornda Ashton and other school officials.

The students’ first goal was to apply for funds to get the project up and running. Having received a grant for $4,900.00, the students started right away on their courtyard make-over. Their first purchase was paint, and they got the entire middle school involved by having each student paint a rock to incorporate into an artistic installation: Spelled out with hundreds of colorful rocks is the word P.R.I.D.E. (Politeness, Respect, Integrity, Determination, Excellence). They also painted rain barrels to collect water and formed a “Compost Crew” that will head up an initiative to collect scraps from the cafeteria and teach everyone at their school about the benefits of composting. For the students, it was important that their project be environmentally sustainable and educational, in addition to being beautiful.

To that end, they have enlisted the help of many community partners: Nancy Garvey and Kevin Howe of the NNK Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society have donated their time and expertise. After learning about the project, Jennings Boatyard donated plywood for the murals, and Allison’s Ace Hardware employee, Alex Pridgen, has consulted with the group about their garden design and materials. NAPS has become involved as well, with board members Rita Johnson and Gena McKinley volunteering to help with the project.

In order to compete at the state level, the students had to write a six-page paper that included an outline of the project, a detailed plan of action and implementation, identification of challenges and resources, project outcomes, and a reflection. They also created a PowerPoint presentation, a website, two scrapbooks, display boards, a small-scale model of the courtyard plan, and a T-shirt design. They have accomplished all of this and more, meeting with Coach McCranie once a week and working many hours outside of school. The students learned recently that their hard work paid off: they won first place for their division at the CmPS state level competition and will now head to the State Bowl in Powhatan. Meanwhile, there is still plenty of work to do. Now that the weather has warmed up, the students will be out in the courtyard soon, installing garden beds, digging in the dirt, painting murals, and planting native greenery, all with the goal of making their courtyard a beautiful, sustainable, and educational environment. As they put it in their report, “Finally our fellow students will now appreciate this beautiful outdoor space!” Look for before and after pictures of the courtyard in an upcoming edition of NAPS News.

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