Cultivating interest in books and nature

Garden: Barclay School project offers area for pupils to read and reflect.

April 29, 2001|By Joy Green | Joy Green,SUN STAFF

At Barclay School in Baltimore this year, spring cleaning focuses on reading, as children, parents and community volunteers join forces to create an outdoor space where children will be able to curl up with a book.

The Reading Garden, to be formally dedicated early next month, will feature benches with barrels of flowers and other plants in a corner of the kindergarten playground originally set up as a bird and butterfly garden.

The project, the focus of an intensive Earth Day work party at the school April 21, is one of many environmental projects at Barclay, recognized as a "Green School" by the governor in 1999.

"It's a wonderful asset to our school and our community," said Dionne Davis-Lee, an educational assistant at Barclay, a public school with pupils in prekindergarten through eighth grade. "I think it beautifies our school. It encourages students to come out. ... It's a nice place for them to be happy and smile."

The Reading Garden project is being led by the school's "Clean Team," whose members spent last month preparing to set up the garden and will continue to work on the space until the dedication.

The garden will have three benches in a "U" near the flower section and plant barrels flanking the sides of other benches. The Clean Team will set up rows of plants around the perimeter. Teachers will be welcome to hold class in the garden, and pupils will be encouraged to do homework, classwork, or sit and enjoy the setting.

The project reflects concern about environmental education from community groups helping with the effort.

Woodland Garden Club has contributed money, labor for the project and helped to teach Barclay pupils about the environment. The group also has donated books about the environment to Stacy Lattimore's special education classroom.

Lattimore, the Clean Team's adviser, said pupils look forward to their time with the garden club.

"They bring home-baked cookies and then they pair two kids to one adult for the time they are here," Lattimore said.

Another group, the Women's Club of Johns Hopkins University, whose members run the school library, set up a display in the library on the Clean Team's "Bay Grasses in Classes" project.

Lattimore is excited about the Reading Garden and said she hopes that teachers will make full use of it during the year, when weather permits. She said the school's early-morning DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) program would be an ideal time for teachers to take their classes to the garden.

"We want to make it so that classes can come out to this space," Lattimore said.

Her enthusiasm was shared by others at a recent workday as they dug holes, removed weeds and watered plants.

"I think it's a good idea to try to the make the school look nicer and to try to make the community look and feel better," said Eduardo Frajman, 26, a volunteer from Greater Homewood Community Corp. who works with AmeriCorps, the national volunteer service program.

Frajman, who is involved with Greater Homewood's adult literacy program, sees educational benefits to the Reading Garden.

"I see that a lot of people don't know how to read as well as they should, and the best way to avoid that is to make the child understand that reading is important," Frajman said.

Davis-Lee, the Barclay educational assistant who is moving to Atlanta at the end of the school year, took her children Saleema, 6, and Soleil, 8, to the recent Saturday work party.

"It was important for me to come here because I've had such a nice time at Barclay and hopefully, the kids will remember me by this," she said.

Her daughter Saleema added, "I think growing flowers is lots of fun because it looks kind of cool."

Other children also were excited about the garden. Romika Morton, 10, a fourth-grader at Barclay, wrote a poem inspired by the garden called "Loving Nature."

"I might sit and just write some more poems because the flowers will interest me in writing," Romika said.

Other pupils were happy to be working in the garden on a sunny spring morning.

"A fossil!" Antonio Woodrup, 11, yelled when he hit a rock while trying to remove weeds.

When asked what he thought was most interesting about garden work, he replied, "Mostly everything."

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