Outdoor Education Efforts in Full Swing All Summer

As I write this, school has been underway for only a few weeks, but our outdoor education efforts were in full swing throughout the summer. Some exciting updates include:

harvestevening• We held three “Harvest Evenings” throughout the summer. We harvested food from the raised beds in the Arboretum and the outdoor classroom between NKE and PVE and donated the fresh produce to the Oregon Area Food Pantry. We also pulled weeds (so many weeds!) and much more.

• The committee dedicated to enhancing our new outdoor classroom met several times and consulted with experts from Community GroundWorks/Sustain Dane to create a master plan for the entire space from PVE to NKE. You might notice the first new project underway—renovation of the area outside the first/second grade doors surrounding the tree we refer to as “Mother Oak.” This majestic tree will now have a beautiful space surrounding her, including a new butterfly garden certified as a Monarch Waystation, a path and natural seating.

• Plans have begun to be able to serve food raised in our NKE gardens to our students in the cafeteria. We are modeling these efforts after the successful program already in place at the Oregon Middle School, where they use a large hoop house to extend the growing season and serve their homegrown food in the cafeteria’s salad bar. We are actively applying for grants and looking for potential donors for this project. If you are interested in supporting this exciting project, please contact Mr. Kluck or use the donation form on the NKE Arboretum website at www.nkearboretum.org.

• We met with staff from Brooklyn Elementary School to share ideas about our gardening programs. In May 2017 we plan to hold a sort of “garden-palooza” week where all the NKE classes get to participate in planting in our garden beds and celebrate our gardening efforts.

If you are interested in helping with any of these projects—either with your time or with financial support, or if you have new ideas you’d like to discuss, please let Mr. Kluck know. One simple way anyone can help is by saving your receipts from Bill’s Food Center and turning them in at school; Bill’s donates 1% of all receipts we collect back to our Arboretum. That really adds up!

And, finally, you can always follow our progress on our Facebook page.

WI Medical Society Grant Supports NKE Gardening

SaraLubbersEsserClass2014-lowresAn important (and exciting) part of our NKE Arboretum is our vegetable garden area. In our first year, in 2012, we built four large raised vegetable beds that were planted by our fourth-grade classes as part of their life science curriculum. We quickly found that other classes wanted to participate, and as a result we added two additional large beds and other smaller raised planters. These days interested classes sign up to “adopt” part of a bed and plant it as soon as weather allows in spring (thanks go out to our school guidance counselor, Sara Lubbers, for coordinating these efforts!).

Kids at school often say the days they worked in the gardens were their favorite days of the whole year, so as our NKE Arboretum group discussed progress this fall, we brainstormed ways we could expand the gardens’ reach despite our space limitations and Wisconsin climate. Ideas included students starting plants from seed indoors and also creating mini “hoop houses” that are basically little greenhouses covering the raised beds so plants can go in the raised beds earlier in spring and stay growing outside later in the fall. We also discussed the fact that water management is always an issue in the Arboretum (a huge amount of water drains off the school roof into that courtyard) and the possibility of creating a rain garden.

That left the question of how to fund these new efforts, and I have great news on that front: We recently received notice that we have been awarded a $1,000 educational grant from the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation supporting our school gardening efforts! We’d like to thank the WMSF for recognizing the importance of school gardening on student wellness. With their support, we’ll be able to continue expanding the reach of outdoor education for children at NKE. Keep an eye on our Facebook page at www.facebook/com/NKEArb for updates on progress! And, as always, if you’d like to get involved in any way, please contact NKE Principal Dan Rikli at der@oregonsd.net.

NKE Arboretum Becomes Nature Explore Certified

NatureExploreCertificationRight before our winter break we got the exciting news that the NKE Arboretum had earned certification as a Nature Explore outdoor classroom. Nature Explore is a collaborative program of the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation that works to transform children’s lives through science-based outdoor classroom design. This certification is a goal we had been working on for two-and-a-half years now, so it’s fair to say we were thrilled to get the news. We are only the second classroom in Wisconsin to receive this honor!

A little background: Our NKE Arboretum space had been worked on here and there over its many years, but by spring 2012, it was more notable for the amount of brambles and weeds growing there than its usefulness as an educational space. At the suggestion of NKE parent Christine Koth, a small group of parents (OK, to be precise, Christine and I) met with a small group of staff. Consensus was that we were fortunate to have this wonderful space in our school, but we certainly weren’t taking advantage of it to help educate our kids.

Things moved quickly from there and haven’t stopped since. We decided to use the guidelines from Nature Explore as our blueprint for transforming the space. A local landscape architect donated his time to create a rendering, and we’ve been chipping away at that rendering ever since as time and donations have allowed. With the installation of our “tree cookie patio” this fall we completed all the major site requirements. That, combined with some staff attending a Nature Explore seminar about best practices for outdoor education, allowed us to earn certification.

I would like to send out a big thank you to everyone who has contributed to this project in any way. The support we’ve received not just from staff and families but also various groups in our community has been fantastic, and seeing our children outside learning in the space is even better.

Although we received certification, we aren’t done yet! We still have a long list of improvements we’ll be working on this spring, including improved path surfaces and installing a rain garden, and we’re expanding our vision beyond the Arboretum walls to the sustainability of our entire school (that’s a topic for a future blog post). If you’d like to get involved, please email Principal Dan Rikli at der@oregonsd.net; we’d love to have you. Keep in mind that you can follow us on our Facebook page, too.

Busy Fall 2014 at NKE Arboretum

 I’m happy to report that we’ve had a great end to 2014 in the NKE Arboretum. In a little more than two years we’ve seen this fantastic space inside our school transform from a little-used, overgrown courtyard to a beautiful natural area that is a part of daily school life. Some of the highlights from this fall include:

• Students harvested produce from the gardens they planted last spring.

• Some of the classes put their own produce to work by making and trying salsa.

RobinBoysTreeCookies-forweb• We participated in the Green Apple Day of Service on Sept. 22. This is a worldwide event coordinated by the U.S. Green Building Council dedicated to making our schools greener. At the NKE Arboretum, volunteers built a “tree cookie” patio and did general cleanup. Many thanks to the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance for their mini-grant supporting our efforts!

• We succeeded in raising enough money for and constructing permanent compost bins in the parking lot that will handle cafeteria compost from NKE and PVE. That’s a huge amount of waste that will be put to good use instead of going into a landfill!

BinsAlmostBuiltDanRobin-forwebWe’ll be busy over the winter months doing planning and fund-raising so that when spring arrives, we’ll be ready. Some priorities we’ve already identified include improving the path surfaces, building a rain garden, creating hoop houses for our garden beds and providing more education and support for our staff to integrate outdoor learning into their very busy days.

Many people don’t realize that the NKE Arboretum improvements are supported solely by donations and grants (and lots of volunteer sweat equity, of course!). If you’d like to make a financial donation supporting outdoor learning at NKE, you can always download the donation form here on our website. Every single donation makes an impact and is tax-deductible. (Making a donation in honor of a favorite teacher or staff member would be a great holiday gift!)

Thanks to all the staff, parents and students who have worked hard to improve our outdoor classroom space in 2014! If you’d like to get involved, please email Principal Dan Rikli at der@oregonsd.net.

Join Us For the Green Apple Day of Service

GreenAppleSavetheDate2014

We are happy to report that progress is going extremely well in the NKE Arboretum! In fact, we believe we are getting close to meeting all the requirements to become a certified outdoor classroom as recognized by Nature Explore, which is a program by the Arbor Day Foundation. To that end, we’ll be working on some big projects this Saturday, which is the worldwide Green Apple Day of Service. On this day, coordinated by the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), children, parents and staff around the world work on projects to make their schools greener.

At NKE we are focusing our efforts on:

• building a “tree cookie” patio
• installing signs identifying the designated different areas in the NKE Arboretum
• general cleanup
• beginning work on large-scale compost bins by the dumpster area that will handle daily compost from the school’s cafeteria.

Can you join us? Our volunteer days are always a fun way to accomplish something important for the school and meet other school families. Here’s the 411:

Date: Saturday, Sept. 27
Time: 9 a.m.-Noon
Bring: Work gloves, your kids, water (and wheelbarrows, if you have them)
Enter: School doors closest to the Arboretum will be open (by the 1st/2nd grade hallway)

We hope to see you there!

NKE’s Green Apple Day of Service 2013

Did you know that there is one day every year across the entire globe during which volunteers help make schools greener? This year’s Green Apple Day of Service was Saturday, Sept. 28, and here at Netherwood Knoll Elementary we again dedicated this day to making progress on our Arboretum. The gorgeous morning was more like summer than fall, and a great group of parents, NKE students and the always-energetic Principal Dan Rikli spent the morning filling up our new raised beds with beautiful dirt and doing more planting. Here are a few photos from the morning. THANK YOU to our volunteers! You did a great job! (You can see an interactive map of all the Green Apple Day of Service projects, from Oregon, Wis., to Africa to India to Australia, here.)

Big thanks go out to now-retired Oregon HS biology teacher Jack Mitchell for donating the beautiful hostas we planted.

Big thanks go out to now-retired Oregon HS biology teacher Jack Mitchell for donating the beautiful hostas we planted.

Those working hard at digging included our principal, Dan Rikli.

Those working hard at digging included our principal, Dan Rikli.

Group in weeds

NKE students digging hosta holes

Elizabeth Watering

Elephant Watering Can

HostasPlanted

Major NKE Arb Progress!

As we start another school year (already!) I thought it would be great to update everyone on what’s going on the NKE Arboretum lately. Our biggest news is that our stream/pond construction is almost done! With generous donations from the Oregon Area Educational Foundation, Oregon Rotary, Alliant Energy, Stoughton Hospital, school families and more, we were able to raise the $6,000 necessary to build this area. We’ll wait to post pond pics until the big reveal, but here’s a sneak peek of the stream area:

Thanks to Jack Mitchell for donating the hakonechloa grass and to Cherith Bruckner for the hostas alongside our stream. It's ready for water!

Thanks to Jack Mitchell for donating the hakonechloa grass and to Cherith Bruckner for the hostas alongside our stream. It’s ready for water!

The rest of the Arboretum has been getting a general sprucing up over the summer. Here are a few scenes from the Arb lately:

The stony area between the pavers and the log is now a new drainage system that will direct water during heavy rainfalls right into the big drain (instead of into school). Both the variegated hibiscus and the glider bench are memorials that now have a nice setting overlooking the new pond/waterfall area.

The stony area between the pavers and the log is now a new drainage system that will direct water during heavy rainfalls right into the big drain (instead of into school). Both the variegated hydrangea and the glider bench are memorials that now have a nice setting overlooking the new pond/waterfall area.

 

The berm adjacent to the fossil area has been moved over to give the area more room, and the rocks create a spiral labyrinth. Each rock in the spiral has some sort of fossil!

The berm adjacent to the fossil area has been moved over to give the area more room, and the rocks create a spiral labyrinth. Each rock in the spiral has some sort of fossil!

 

Extra pavers from last year's entryway project were used to create areas amid the gardens for our four art easels.

Extra pavers from last year’s entryway project were used to create areas amid the gardens for our four art easels.

 

Our beautiful shade garden now has a nice stone path leading to the closet.

Our beautiful shade garden now has a nice stone path leading to the closet.

 

The garden area has been weeded, and the plants are bearing tons of produce! More on that in a future post...

The garden area has been weeded, and the plants are bearing tons of produce! More on that in a future post…

 

Many areas have been spruced up with mulch. Now to figure out what to do with that huge wall...

Many areas have been spruced up with mulch. Now to figure out what to do with that huge wall…

We are always looking for more people to get involved! Whether you have a half hour here and there to pull weeds or you’d be willing to take on a specific project, let us know! If you’d like to make a donation, you can get more info on our wish list or on how to donate.

 

 

 

 

Our Own Mud Day in the NKE Arboretum

International Mud Day isn’t until June 29, but we inadvertently celebrated a little early in the NKE Arboretum on Saturday! A small but ambitious and highly effective group got a huge amount of work done under threatening skies. Eventually the clouds let loose a steady drizzle, but that didn’t stop everyone from spreading at least 12 yards of mulch, weeding and mowing. The Arboretum looks fantastic! There is plenty more to do, but things are looking good, if we do say so ourselves!

Special thanks to Matt Seeliger of Copper Koi Designs LLC for delivering and shoveling (with many little helpers) a huge trailer load of mulch, and to Jack Mitchell for the use of his truck and trailer for the morning, too. Due to the steady rain, we didn’t get many pictures, but here are a couple:

NKE parent Christine Koth and her daughter, NKE first grader Molly, tracking mud into school for a good cause!

NKE parent Christine Koth and her daughter, NKE first grader Molly, tracking mud into school for a good cause!

NKE alum Matt Seeliger of Copper Koi Designs takes a break from unloading mulch to survey the setting for the soon-to-be-installed new pond/waterfall. (Side note: Our new arbor constructed by Nox Seehafer is going to be no less than spectacular as the two wisteria vines grow over it!

NKE alum Matt Seeliger of Copper Koi Designs takes a break from unloading mulch to survey the setting for the soon-to-be-installed new pond/waterfall. (Side note: Our new arbor constructed by Nox Seehafer is going to be no less than spectacular as the two wisteria vines grow over it!)

 

The “Treehouse” is Underway!

DanInspectingPlatform-web

NKE Principal Dan Rikli takes a look at progress on the raised platform in the Arboretum.

As you may know, last summer we were fortunate to be awarded a $5,000 grant from the American Girl Fund for Children for the creation of a multi-tiered platform “treehouse” area for music, movement and more underneath our beautiful pine trees. We are happy to report that construction has begun! NKE Arb friend, compost guru and former contractor Nox Seehafer is leading the creation of the deck. Looking good, Nox!

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