After three years, many hands and plenty of hard work, the outdoor courtyard at Upper St. Clair’s Boyce Middle School has been transformed into a fully functioning garden and serene setting.
The transformation was made possible through the collective efforts of many groups and individuals, including school nurse Holly Fisher, the Boyce student council and parent teacher organization, staff members and families, in addition to a group of local Girl Scouts.
The four Scouts – freshmen Olivia Cuba, Kate Robbins, Anna McElligott and Kara Fisher – served as key volunteers throughout the summer as part of their Silver Award efforts. The Girl Scout Silver Award is the highest award a Girl Scout Cadette can earn, for making a difference in their communities.
The goal of the project was to turn the unoccupied area of the school into a quiet spot that promotes education and relaxation while providing fresh air for the more than 600 students who attend Boyce Middle School.
“That’s why, along with the newly planted garden, you can find educational materials that allow the students to explore the garden and collaborate with peers,” Cuba said.
Dan O’Rourke, Boyce Middle School principal, said the courtyard’s original condition looked like a jungle. Volunteers worked to remove overgrown bushes and trees, clear weeds, install landscaping fabric, spread mulch, build and fill raised planters, and plant fruits, vegetables and flowers.
The area now features benches and numerous planters with strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins, spinach, along with lilies and two butterfly bushes.
“It has been incredibly rewarding to work collaboratively with so many different groups and individuals toward a common goal,” O’Rourke said. “The garden presented a unique opportunity for our students where they literally get to see the fruits of their labor.”
Ultimately, he hopes the garden becomes a valued extension of the classroom.
“We will continue to work with our faculty and staff to help identify natural connections within the curriculum. Whether our sixth-grade science teachers use the resource in conjunction with the unit on plants or our ELA teachers use it as inspiration for a writing lesson,” he said about English language arts, “there are numerous opportunities for teaching and learning.”
Fisher sees endless possibilities for incorporating the courtyard into the normal school day and beyond.
“Some teachers are just excited to have an alternative place to take students to learn. Our IB students,” she said about the international baccalaureate program, “will also have the opportunity to complete community service hours with their families to help to maintain our garden in the summer.”
Incorporated into the courtyard is a rock garden created by the Boyce student council. Last year, members purchased enough rocks for each sixth-grader to write his or her name on a rock and add it to the garden.
“It was in an attempt to boost school spirit and enhance our newly updated garden,” said Justin Gremba, sixth-grade math teacher and student council sponsor. “We wanted each student to have ownership in our project, so we had each of them decorate their own rock with their name and symbols that represent them.”
Gremba said he expects the rock project to serve as a recurring activity for each class.
“This year, the project will be in January or February,” he said. “The rocks are then laid out as their graduation year, and displayed in the courtyard. The rocks from last year will then be moved into a different location.”
The project has been rewarding for all involved.
“The part I have loved the most is stepping out of my health office role and being part of a project that is going to have a positive impact on every student who comes through Boyce,” Fisher said. “I want the students to see how rewarding it is to plant something, watch it grow, then be able to harvest the final product.”
While the transformation from jungle to garden has been significant, the team at Boyce is not ready to stop and rest.
“Our next step is to partner with some of our colleagues at the high school to further improve this space,” O’Rourke said. “We are hoping the high school’s STEAM class can assist us with a solution to connect our rain barrel to existing water run-off. And we’re looking forward to working with our science curriculum leader, Lynn Kistler, to make improvements for next year regarding what, where and when to plant.”
To ensure the courtyard’s long-term sustainability, O’Rourke is hopeful that a Boyce student club will embrace the garden and courtyard and its ongoing maintenance.