Garden may be installed, used as outdoor classroom

MIFFLINTOWN — Plans are in motion to install a garden that could be utilized as an outdoor classroom at Juniata Elementary School.

Shanna Varner, president of the Juniata Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, presented plans to the Juniata County School District’s Board of Directors Wednesday at its workshop meeting.

The garden, she said, would be managed by the PTO, volunteers, community groups and students.

Varner said designs — completed by JPH Enterprises — include garden plots for each grade level and would provide alternative ways for students to learn outdoors.

The garden, she said, could provide benefits for students academically.

“Research shows that children who participate in outdoor classroom curriculum in addition to traditional classroom learning score higher on achievement testing,” she said.

The garden would also include raised garden beds that would allow wheelchair access, a bench area, enough tables to hold one classroom at a time, a koi pond, and a locked fence that leads to the playground to protect from animals and vandals.

Varner said the plan included having an access door placed for easier access to the garden.

When the idea for the project first came about, she said she was under the impression that an access door was included in the elementary school consolidation plans, however those plans had fallen through the cracks upon the departure of the district’s previous superintendent.

“I assumed the board was made aware of the door, but here we are with no door and we are ready to start the project phases.”

Varner told the board she hopes the district will consider helping to fund the access door.

The addition of a door, she said, gives students a safe access from the garden into the school.

“The kids in the garden (would be) in a three-sided area and they (would) have no way to safely get out if there is an intruder, bad weather or whatever the case may be,” he said, adding that it would also give another emergency exit, and a pathway for teachers to take students to the playground.

Reynolds Construction is in the process of getting estimates on the proposed door, but Varner said the garden in itself is expected to cost $40-50,000. The garden would be supported by the PTO, adding that the group is also looking at business sponsors and grants funding.