A community effort transformed a small garden plot into a full outdoor classroom. Our PTA fundraising efforts, in partnership with the local business community, raised nearly $40,000 over three years for the new outdoor space.
After viewing the garden area at Florida Southwestern High School, TWES contacted principal Dr. Botts for a student-led collaboration project. Their high school students worked with the Tanglewood 5th graders to plan, design, budget, and build four vegetable beds. This partnership helped create the outdoor classroom.
The outdoor classroom creates multi-sensory learning experiences for students in every discipline and grade at the school. Teachers can use the space for real-world instruction on water cycles & filtration, urban heat islands, rain gardens, Florida Friendly plantings, permeable versus impermeable surfaces, and other STEM topics. There are garden beds used by various classes. Students have created nature inspired art projects. And students and visitors enjoy the peaceful retreat for eating lunch or reading.
We are always looking for ways to improve the experience in the outdoor classroom. Future projects might include more student art installments, rain barrels and a hydroponic garden. We hope students, teachers and guests enjoy and learn from our outdoor classroom for many years to come.
The water feature in Tanglewood’s Outdoor Classroom demonstrates nature’s design for cleaning water. The water feature is built on a slope. The water flows down and rocks and plants filter it. The movement of water also encourages air flow and evaporation, which produces a cooling effect for the surrounding area.
The feature also demonstrates the role of surface water in the earth’s water cycle. Surface water collects in a basin, such as a river, pond or lake. During precipitation water falling to the ground flows into these natural and man-made basins. The quality of surface water has a lot to do with what flows into the basins along with the water. Eventually, surface water returns to the air during evaporation.
Surface water is different from groundwater, which seeps below ground and collects there. It does not return to the air as evaporation.
An urban heat island (UHI) is a city or metropolitan area that is significantly warmer than its surrounding areas due to human activities. The most significant cause of a heat island is the removal of greenspace in favor of buildings, concrete and asphalt, which absorb more solar radiation than vegetation. A lack of plants can also increase heat because less moisture is released into the air via evapotranspiration (the release of water vapor into the air during the transpiration process of plants).
Other contributing factors to heat island are: heat created by energy usage, tall buildings redirecting breezes, and buildings trapping surface heat near the ground. The temperature difference is most noticeable at night.
Urban Heat Islands have been shown to affect water quality, pollution and even weather patterns.
There are many strategies to mitigate the effects of an urban heat island. Planting trees and other vegetation is one of the most effective methods, which we have employed in our outdoor classroom at Tanglewood. The plantings create shade and release moisture into the air.
The movement of our water feature also reduces heat by encouraging air circulation and releasing moisture. And the permeable surfacing of mulch and recycled rubber allows heat and moisture to be released into the air, rather than trapped at ground level.
These same strategies are being used by communities around the country, on both small and large scales, to reduce the effect of urban heat islands.
It’s possible to grow a wide range of plants in sunny Florida. But not all plants are created equal when it comes to our environment. Plants are deemed “Florida-friendly” because they can tolerate the heat and seasonally wet and dry conditions in Florida with little or no irrigation. The largest use of water from municipal water systems in Florida is irrigation of lawns and landscaping.
Florida-friendly plants are also are resistant to common pests so that there’s no need for pesticides. And they can be successful in the Florida soil without the regular addition of herbicides. This means less pollution flowing into our water systems.
Florida-friendly plants are also attractive to Florida wildlife and can help control soil erosion.
Plants do not need to be native to Florida to be considered Florida-friendly. While most plants native to Florida would meet the criteria to be considered Florida-friendly, it is not always the case. Florida is home to a wide variety of habitats. If a native plant is grown in a location where conditions aren’t similar to its natural habitat, it could require additional irrigation and fertilization.
For more information on Florida-friendly landscaping visit the University of Florida’s Florida-Friendly Landscapes program at: http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/.
A rain garden has been created in the portion of the Tanglewood Outdoor Classroom next to our PE blacktop. A rain garden is an area of plantings that’s contoured to create a depression or low-lying greenspace to collect water run-off. The water is filtered through plant root systems and layers of soil. This improves the quality and amount of groundwater in the surrounding area.
The plants in our rain garden were selected because they help filter the water and because they are adapted to withstand wet and dry conditions as rainfall varies. The plants also release moisture back into the air during transpiration, which helps cool the surrounding area.
Rain gardens are installed in urban areas to improve water quality and reduce flooding. They are designed to divert and clean water that would otherwise collect on paved surfaces or be funneled into drainage systems that dump the unfiltered water into surrounding water bodies.
This project has shown us just how generous our community partners can be. We are beyond grateful for everyone who has helped us create our beautifully tranquil outdoor learning environment.
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