Nestled between Sligo Creek Elementary School and Silver Spring International Middle School in Silver Spring, Maryland, is a shared outdoor classroom courtyard that encourages teachers and students to move out of a traditional indoor classroom setting and take a hands-on approach to their studies.
It has become a learning laboratory where teachers turn discussions about cooperation and responsibility into lessons and where students observe the natural environment through wildlife habitat, weather observation, native plantings and harvesting their own food. After visiting the school’s shared campus, this was the space where The Tower Companies knew they could have the most impact for their company-wide volunteering event for Green Apple Day of Service.
The team met with the principals and staff of both schools and learned that the outdoor classroom is underutilized by students, partly because teachers were not sure how to use the space and didn’t have the resources. So Tower’s team of sustainability professionals, engineers, contractors and designers came together to brainstorm ways to enhance the natural classroom space for the students and staff. The team’s goal was to help foster an environment that aided in learning and connection, given that the mission of the outdoor classroom movement nicely aligns with Tower’s vision to develop buildings and spaces that inspire and create positive social change.
“Since my father started the family business almost 70 years ago, we have enjoyed engaging in and contributing to the local community through employee volunteerism and philanthropy,” said Jeffrey Abramson, partner at The Tower Companies. “To align with this commitment, we are proud to offer paid time off to employees interested in giving back to the community, and this year, I’m excited to see our entire Tower Team volunteering together to create an even bigger impact for our local schools.”
Tower has been participating in Green Apple Day of Service since the event's inception five years ago, by partnering with local schools that are located in the same or nearby districts where they own and manage residential properties. This year was the biggest effort from the team, with 100 percent participation from Tower employees and significant contributions from seven industry partners to donate an astounding 400-plus on-site volunteer hours.
The team also worked to build a new shed and bench, construct two new vegetable gardens, upgrade an 800-square-foot rain garden and conservative landscaping, stain and repair 20 benches and tables, install two welcome signs and make new planters with herbs.
This year, Tower was fortunate to have Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker join in the fun and thank the entire Tower staff and partners for their contributions. Hucker stressed the importance of creating an engaged learning environment for the future of the children in the Montgomery County.
The Tower Companies’ 2016 projects
- Welcome signs: Custom-designed welcome signs to help personalize the entrances to the outdoor classroom and encourage more classes to use the space.
- Edible gardens: Two new raised edible garden beds that hold fall vegetables and multiple new herb garden planters to build upon a curriculum of teaching how to grow one’s own food.
- Conservation landscape: Upkeep of the 800-square-foot conservation landscape, which included weeding, mulching, planting and edging. This garden is used to prevent stormwater runoff from entering the nearby Sligo Creek and is home to native perennials that host pollinators for students to study.
- Benches: In 2015, Tower planted 30 large native plants to beautify the new stage area in the outdoor classroom and also built 20 benches that convert into tables, so that teachers can create lessons to teach students while in the outdoor classroom. The same benches were stained and repaired this year to preserve them during the changing seasons, so they can be used for years to come.
- Front entrance beautification: A new shed to hold garden tools and materials for the volunteer parents who maintain the space and to keep the courtyard entrances clean and safe for students and teachers. Four new herb gardens were also made out of recycled wine barrels and placed at the entrances with signage.