Cool schools!

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
July 2015

Steffie Shields highlights this month’s Open School Grounds Weekend 4th–5th July.
How many schools provide wellies for all the children as standard equipment? How many schools have sheds? Avidly glued to every single RHS Chelsea Flower Show TV broadcast, I was amused to hear plantswoman Carol Klein comment on the origin of the word shed: shade! The inspirational Chelsea show gardens certainly put the efforts of the amateur gardener in the shade.

If we cannot aspire to spending vast amounts on specimen trees and shrubs, most of us do at least have the said shed. These days, much more than a tools and potting glory hole – or husband’s retreat – this can be quite a surreal fashion statement.

Shade is actually something we should aim for in our gardens – places to sit and avoid damaging sunburn, places to linger and delight in dappled light and all those gorgeous flowers that thrive in semi-shade without the need for pampering and watering. I wonder how many school grounds still have vast expanses of concrete playground and few trees offering cooling shade for the summer term, let alone grass or flowerbeds.

Where would we be if no-one gardened? Where would we be without our public parks? The world would be a drab, grey and tasteless place, especially for the young. Bright ‘Young Horts’ at Chelsea are avid gardeners determined to attract 16–25 year-olds into gardening using social media. I wonder how they caught the gardening bug? A scientific approach to the study of horticulture can be daunting. Most teenagers have other things on their minds, not to mention exams!

I was probably hooked on gardening at the age of three-and-a-half visiting my grandparents’ home in Montreal. My grandfather paid my sister and me one cent for every weed we dug up from his front lawn. Seeing his happy smile at the perfect carpet lawn was one thing, and that tinge of satisfaction that we had contributed to his pleasure was another. Meanwhile, passing drivers often stopped to admire my grandmother’s array of roses, Disney-coloured borders and rockeries in the unfenced back garden. I treasure the thick gardening tome she mused over and enjoy re-reading her pencilled in wish-list of plants on the flyleaf.

Let’s concentrate efforts on getting children to love being out on the land, to love developing a patch of ground with all the scented punches that Nature packs. They may not grow up to be Alan Titchmarsh, but once the dirt is under their fingernails and they experience the wonder of seeing seeds sprout, blossom and fruit before their eyes, they will forever remain gardeners at heart.

Given the opportunity to help enhance their own school grounds, children will be happier and take pride in their school. Later there will be other distractions, as they focus on acquiring varied life skills, but they will most likely return to gardening when they have their own homes. Remembering the joys of planting in childhood, they will wish to pass on the fresh air fun of growing to their own bairns.

This month inspirational school grounds are opening to show off what teachers, children and parents can achieve together. On Friday 3rd July Lincolnshire Gardens Trust members will have a special preview of Boston West Academy’s award-winning school grounds. Teacher Emma Schofield, education co-ordinator for both Lincolnshire Gardens Trust and the national Association of Gardens Trusts, has been the driving force behind the development of these school gardens, together with her equally capable and dynamic head teacher husband Mike Schofield. This remarkable partnership does not let the grass grow beneath its feet!

They raised funds from local businesses for the school’s latest development, an Eco Centre training space for educators surrounded by a landscaped setting designed by the children themselves.

The Boston West schoolchildren were invited to grow plants for a Show garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show for the second time this year. I would not be surprised if next year they grow rocket seeds, which I hear are being sent up to space before being sent to schools in an RHS and Space Agency experiment.

Amongst other RHS and Britain in Bloom accolades Emma was recently presented with a national Educator 2014 award from the charity ‘Learning Outside the Classroom’ (LOTC).

Emma said: “The staff is passionate about connecting young children to their natural environment, engaging them with the flora and fauna that surrounds them, and linking the curriculum and learning to appreciate the outdoors in as many ways as possible.”

She has inspired this passion in the staff as well as the children. Where else will you find a mud factory, a WWI bunker alongside raised beds of a whole variety of vegetables, and striking bird sculptures? So tell your friends and any teachers you know to make the effort and take the time to visit during an Open School Grounds Day: St Francis School, Lincoln, LN1 3TJ Friday 3rd July 11am–2.30pm; Gosberton House School PE11 4EW Sunday 5th July 1pm–4pm; Boston West Academy PE21 7QG Sunday 5th July 2pm–4pm. They will be inspired by the imaginative art of the possible and the achievable.

If you are a teacher, head teacher, teaching assistant or parent interested in supporting school grounds projects, Emma will also be sharing her experience and creative ideas as to what schools can do to celebrate the 2016 Capability Brown Tercentenary Festival at an East Midlands Education Forum at Boston West on Monday 6th July.

Lastly, it is worth sharing Emma’s LOTC award citation in order to appreciate how she helped to make Boston West Academy a ‘cool school’: ‘Emma Schofield is Outdoor Learning Leader at Boston West Academy. When she joined the school it was in special measures. Pupils’ attainment, attitudes and behaviour were in need of significant improvement. Emma was at the heart of a team that re-shaped the school’s philosophy and practice so that it both engaged and inspired pupils.

‘Today, high levels of academic performance have been achieved, whilst pupils’ social interaction and behaviour is outstanding. Emma introduced a school council, giving children a voice to influence school improvement and their learning environment. She led an Eco Club to develop children’s deeper understanding and connection with the natural environment. She involved pupils, staff, parents, governors and local community organisations, achieving six Eco Schools Green Flags since 2001.

‘Emma’s work broadened to develop cross-curricular outdoor learning, including environmental education and Bushcraft skills, creating a unique, practical and inspirational curriculum for pupils. Emma’s support and training for staff has led to outdoor learning being delivered enthusiastically by every member of staff and loved by all of the children at Boston West. Emma has drawn upon support and expertise from a range of organisations including the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust, RSPB, local nurseries and horticultural groups. Emma designs and delivers inspirational courses for teachers from other schools, as well as providing bespoke consultancy, guidance and support. This means that children and staff beyond her own school are now benefiting from her hard work.’

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