Chadwick Schools Putting Finishing Touches on Outdoor Classroom and Herb Garden

There’s no denying that it has been a heat bomb of a summer in the Ozarks. The sweltering temperatures have made outdoor work miserable, and keeping living things alive has been something of a challenge.

With that in mind, students in the Chadwick R-1 School District should be doubly impressed by the transformation that awaits them when the new school year begins August 22. And a number of community volunteers, students and school staff from the small, rural town in eastern Christian County have put in the sweat equity to make sure it gets done.

With the help of a $19,989 Coover grant the Chadwick campus, instead of a hardscrabble space between school buildings, will now have a fully functional outdoor classroom and Ozark Mountain herb garden. With a little financial boost, students, volunteers and staffers from Lowe’s in nearby Ozark have turned a previously useless patch of gravel and grass into one of the most innovative classroom projects in southern Missouri.

With the additional help of a $5,000 Heroes Grant from Lowe’s–which included materials, plants, furnishings and expert advice–multi-tiered levels of decks and sitting space have been erected where previously there was limestone chat and scrub brush. Umbrellas, a shade awning and multiple access points make the space comfortable and useful for all students.

For the schools, the herb garden will serve cross-curricular purposes; students will not only maintain and grow the plants, but learn about their home uses, medicinal properties, and importance to the Ozarks’ early history and ecology in classes spanning from elementary school to high school.

Other project objectives, as outlined in the grant proposal, include a website to track the project’s progress, a space in the garden reserved for elementary students, a community display at Chadwick’s annual Railroad Days celebration and collaboration with Christian County’s Master Gardener chapter for professional assistance.

The project was one of eight to receive more than $140,000 in 2011 Coover grantmaking funds last May at the Rural Schools Rendezvous in Thomasville, Mo. Selected projects must meet the Rural School Partnership‘s mission of connecting schools and communities through the principles of place-based education. The RSP now taking applications for the 2012 Coover grantmaking round; click here to apply. The application period ends March 2, 2012.

The grants are made possible by the Louis L. and Julia Dorothy Coover Charitable Foundation Place-Based Education Grantmaking Program of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks in partnership with Commerce Trust. The Rural Schools Partnership is a CFO initiative.

This week in Chadwick, the deadline heat to complete the project before school actually outweighed the temperature heat. The sky was overcast and temperatures mild as a parent-volunteer pounded pavers and Lowe’s employees assembled furniture.

Meanwhile, 17-year-old Ashlee Jones, president of Chadwick’s Future Farmers of America chapter, and a few of her fellow officers looked around the space and talked about its potential uses. They had also helped unload a mountain of lumber when it was delivered earlier in the summer. “We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into with the size of that lumber delivery,” she said with a laugh. “This is something that shows Chadwick is taking a step forward, and something that the students can be proud of.”

Wheeler takes the long view: When asked what purpose he hope the space is serving 10 years from now, he says he hopes to be able to sit in the corner, sip on some sweet tea, watch the students and “plan what to do with the next 10 years.”

We can only hope that summer isn’t quite as hot.