Glencliff Garden Club Outdoor Classroom

Idea Leader:
Lisa Bilavarn

Location: Nashville, TN

Partner Organization: Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt

Project Summary: Lisa Bilavarn, 17 and her fellow school garden club members dreamed big in the designing, planning, and building of their Outdoor Classroom that aims to engage students outside the traditional classroom, improve knowledge of nutrition and healthy foods, and provide youth leadership opportunities. 
Benefiting from the hard work of many and the support of
many partners and experts, the outdoor classroom was recently
appraised for $84,000.


Outdoor Classroom Project Provides Leadership Opportunities for Students

The Outdoor Classroom project is part of the Glencliff Garden Project, which is an effort to build a sustainable school garden that promotes increased access to healthy foods, improved knowledge on nutrition and sustainable food systems, and leadership opportunities for students. The Outdoor Classroom project aimed to provide students with leadership opportunities in building a space to host workshops, classroom lessons, and provide experiential and hands-on learning. Ultimately, these projects hope to decrease dropout rates by increasing students’ connections, engagement, and commitment to our school.

The Outdoor Classroom project has grown bigger and better than we ever dreamed it would.  The project began in September when we started having weekly Garden Club meetings. In October, we hosted a workshop where students began designing visuals for what the classroom should look like and how it could meet student needs. Then, I developed a survey for teachers with the help of my Garden Club leaders. The survey was distributed to every teacher at my school and it gave me information on what teachers needed and a list of supplies that would be helpful. The survey provided a different point of view and helped me learn the teacher’s perspective of what they wanted in a classroom.

After we collected this information, it took us several months to come up with a design for the classroom that everyone was happy with. In January, we partnered with Nashville Tools for Schools. This partnership ultimately helped us finalize the design and blueprints. Because the project design became bigger than we originally anticipated, it took all of February and March to get all of the approvals we would need from ADA, Planning & Facilities, and to obtain our Building Permit. 

In the mean time, we focused on increasing student participation in all of the Garden Projects by coming up with interesting meetings and activities including cooking classes, Food Inc. screenings and discussions, and volunteer sessions in the garden.  Construction on the project began in April and continued through May. The final touches on the Outdoor Classroom are being finished through June. In May, we purchased classroom supplies, curriculums, and materials we would need for the Outdoor Classroom including white boards, picnic tables, garden curriculums, organizational materials, classroom supplies, etc. 

This academic year, we hosted 32 after-school Garden Club meetings with 48 students on our Garden Club roster. Each meeting was 1 to 1.5 hours long.  Students were engaged in many projects including repotting plants, harvesting produce, building ADA accessible raised beds, cooking healthy recipes with our garden produce, and learning about gardening techniques and sustainable food systems. Garden Club students were very helpful to the outdoor classroom project as they helped us brainstorm student needs and ideas for the classroom design, provide input and feedback throughout the process, paint shed panels, and helped promote the project across the school. 

Other students outside the Garden Club assisted as well.  Particularly, 24 engineering students helped build the classroom’s piers, joists, beams, and decking. Throughout the year, I have dedicated approximately 60-70 hours to working on this grant and the outdoor classroom project.

Throughout the year, we hosted several workshops to promote the outdoor classroom and the Glencliff Garden Project.  First, we hosted the Glendale Elementary fieldtrip where 97 kindergarteners and 1st graders and 20 teachers and parents came to our school to learn about the plant life cycle, vermicomposting, potting plants, and the basics of a pizza garden. Garden Club and Medical Science and Research Academy helped guide the students through the workshops.  Additionally, I facilitated story time with the kids where I read Apple Annie and then the students had a healthy lunch that was created and run by our Culinary Arts department. 

Second, we hosted the Growing Healthy Communities School & Community Garden Workshops where students, teachers, parents, and community members learned about garden skills, classroom integration, and how to take your garden project to the next level. Participants were also offered a healthy lunch created by our Culinary Arts program while they listened to a keynote speaker talk about edible plant life. Seventeen youth and 37 teachers, parents, and community members participated in this event. 

Furthermore, several garden workshops were integrated into our classrooms including the ecology, engineering, and culinary arts classes. Twenty-seven workshops were hosted with these classes. Approximately 25 students were involved in each workshop. Workshop topics included food production, introduction to soil, food label analysis, seasonality, cloning, and poverty and food lessons. To help ensure that the Outdoor Classroom project will continue to grow next school year, we developed a list of new workshop lessons that our Garden Club and teachers will help create and implement. Topics include Nature Studies, Trench Warfare (History), Necessity of Mother of Invention (Career Connections), Still Life Drawings (Art), Drama (English), and Nutrition & Exercise (Health). Finally, we purchased several Outdoor Classroom curriculums that will help provide lesson plans, activities, and ideas to all teachers and students who use our outdoor classroom.

The Outdoor Classroom project was possible because of our many partners and supporters.  Our principal, Tony Majors, was very supportive of this project from the beginning. He provided feedback, approved the project design, helped navigate the logistics, and was always promoting the project to our school’s community. Also, the Metro Nashville Public School system was helpful by assisting us in obtaining ADA approval, approval from Facilities & Design, and permits from the Fire Marshall. Several teachers were helpful in guiding this project including Jason Knisley who was in charge of the Engineering students and Hank Cardwell and Karri Bishop who are our Garden Club leaders. Additionally, Nashville Tools for Schools, a local non-profit was essential to building the classroom. This organization provided volunteer engineers that finalized and submitted our blue prints to the appropriate sources, organized great numbers of volunteers to actually build the classroom, and provided tools and resources. Finally, the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt helped support the project by providing spaces for meetings, organizing the finances, keeping me on task, and helping support the logistics of this grant. 

I think this project has been important to our school because it has given me an opportunity to be a leader. A lot of my peers are really interested in this project which will help promote attendance and participation in their classes. Having class outside will give us energy, hands on learning, real-world knowledge, and a more interesting setting where we can learn and interact. 

Additionally, the Garden Club is important to students because it gives us an opportunity to be creative, to interact with our teachers and community partners, to build new friendships, and to learn how to care for our environment. These opportunities will help our school decrease dropout rates because they create more student interest, provide more engaging opportunities, and help us feel more connected to our school. Overall, student and teachers have been very supportive. 

One student wrote, “I am excited about the outdoor classroom, because we are finally doing something different, and also because we are going to be able to go outside and study nature.”   Also, one teacher said that the outdoor classroom will “allow [her] to integrate more diverse, complex lesson plans” into her history lessons.

At the end of this project, we asked Design Build Partners, an outside consultant, to appraise our outdoor classroom. While the AT&T and America’s Promise grant provided $16,000 to support the construction of this project (the remainder went to classroom and workshop supplies), the actual classroom has been appraised and valued at approximately $84,000. This project will continue to be an asset to our Garden Club, our school, and our community!