Discovery Garden: Outdoor learning at Esperanza - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Communitylife

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Discovery Garden: Outdoor learning at Esperanza

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Posted: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 11:00 pm

Children spend most of their school days cooped up in classrooms without windows, but students at Kyrene de la Esperanza will soon have the opportunity to learn in an outdoor environment with the completion of Discovery Garden.

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Marcia Tutora, who has two children at Esperanza, decided that she wanted to create a garden at the elementary school when she saw an article in a newspaper about a grant program that provided for gardens at schools.

“I’m a landscape architect by trade, and I spent time thinking about what would be good for the kids at Esperanza,” Tutora said. “I had a vision for the garden, submitted the proposal, and got the grant.”

After receiving the grant, Tutora found the administration in Kyrene School District to be supportive of her idea.

“It would have been easy for them to say no, but we have an open-minded and forward-thinking principal who embraced the idea,” Tutora said. “You need to have people who can grasp the benefits of a vision and not be afraid, and the district supported us.”

The major elements of Discovery Garden should be in place by the end of the year. According to Tutora, the finished project will include a vegetable garden, long table for lessons, plants that are native to Arizona, and maybe even solar panels.

“My idea was to get the infrastructure going, with the money and means in place, and then I wanted to step back for the students and teachers to take over,” she said. “I’m really good at creating projects and getting funding, but ultimately it will be the school’s program.”

Eventually students from all KSD schools will be able to sign up and join Discovery Club, where they will learn how to garden and build different objects. Discovery Garden will also have the capability to be used in everyday classroom learning.

“It’s going to be a place where students can come with their teachers during the school day,” Tutora said. “They can do work directly related to their science or math programs, or not directly related for poetry and reading.”

Tutora believes that spending time outdoors is important for children.

“Children need to be outside sometimes, and schools don’t have windows anymore,” she said. “Being that we live in a beautiful place, Discovery Garden will be somewhere children can come and decompress.

Discovery Garden is being built by parent and student volunteers, as well as local business owners who have donated their time and resources. On the first volunteer day of construction, around 60 people showed up to help.

“It was a great day – we built the pond and planted the trees,” Tutora said. “It’s still a raw construction site, but we’re really getting the sense that it’s coming together.”

Discovery Garden is being built without any cost to the Kyrene School District, thanks to the grant money and donations from businesses like The Pond Gnome in Peoria.

Paul Holdeman, pond expert and co-founder of The Pond Gnome, donated all of the necessary materials for building the pond in Discovery Garden.

“Environmental education is getting more popular, and getting involved in creating these outdoor labs is a way to introduce the public to ponds done right,” Holdeman said. “We have a great product at The Pond Gnome, and we thought this would be a great way to get it out in the schools for people to see.”

After building several ponds for schools all across Phoenix, Holdeman has been surprised at the numerous uses outdoor classrooms provide.

“I’ve found that there is a use for an outdoor learning environment for just about every school subject,” he said. “It also keeps students more interested than a lesson on the chalkboard would.”

All community members are welcome to help with the construction of Discovery Garden, and the next volunteer day is Saturday, Nov. 14, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. To sign up or donate to Discovery Garden, visit

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