Once Upon A Time Eleven – The Courtyard Project

This is a post about the courtyard project undertaken at Miscoe Hill School in the spring and summer of 2007. This is the eleventh in a series of Legacy Posts about projects that happened early on in my art classroom. Recently I was able to tap into some archived photos that I thought had long ago disappeared. I’ve decided to write some blog posts incorporating these photos to share the memories and/or inspire others to try these projects. Some are very dear to me because I took risks with my students and the end result was big learning for all of us, especially me. Also, in my nineteenth year of teaching now, I realize that ideas, projects, and programs come and go, and sometimes come back again. These art projects are just a memory now, and I believe they are worth remembering and preserving. The first post in the series can be found here, and the rest of them follow. Simply search Once Upon A Time in the categories on the front page of the blog.

The 2007 courtyard renovation was first begun as an Enrichment Program during the spring. The courtyard space seemed full of potential that had long been neglected. The initial idea was to clean up the weed beds along the window and put in welcoming decor of some kind. The class was planned as a gardening class and quickly turned into a bigger project. I was approached by a local Boy Scout, Adam Parlin, about creating a walkway into the courtyard for his Eagle Scout project. Over the next few months, Adam, his dad, and fellow Boy Scouts worked with school maintenance staff to build a walkway with repurposed pavers. Adam’s design begins the walkway as if it were the trunk of a tree, branching out into the courtyard with pavers further apart and more randomly placed. Adam said it was a metaphor for the foundation we build at school before our students go on to bigger things beyond middle school. Adam’s walkway framed our flower beds perfectly.

Courtyard, early spring 2007
Courtyard, late spring 2007
Courtyard, summer 2007

During the spring enrichment class we created poles from which we hung bells we made from overturned flower pots with jingle bells hanging inside. We hung the bells in the trees, too. We also made mosaic pavers to place in the flower beds that were covered in crushed stone. We weeded, thatched, and aerated the center island, which was overgrown with plantings and roots.

We had so much fun that spring, my former colleague, Leia Roberts, and I decided to offer a weeklong summer workshop called Altered Environments. We lined the walkway with a freshly dug flowerbeds and filled it with hosta and perennials we had harvested from our own yards. We made wind machines with 2 liter bottles. We created a bird bath with large flowerpots that we covered with mosaics of buttons and beads. We made wind chimes with painted plexiglass. We painted sea shells and lined the flowerbed with them. We planted purple irises and daffodil bulbs. We made birdhouses to place in the trees. We had a blast getting dirty and hanging around outside.

Later in the week, Allaire’s Log Cabins, of Mendon, brought us some hand hewn log benches to put together. We built them, we stained them, and we weatherproofed them. We arranged them along the windows in the courtyard. On the last day we celebrated the marvelous transformation with popsicles and joy. What a great week it was!

Work in the courtyard continued for a few years after the summer of 2007. Another Boy Scout, Tyler Kenney, chose the courtyard for his Eagle project and built a patio in the corner outside the technology lab, which is a shaded spot during most of the day. The Miscoe Hill Student Council purchased sturdy picnic tables so classes could meet outside in the shade. One spring my students and I dug a garden near the patio and planted sunflowers. The maintenance staff installed a hose and watered them for us over the summer. By the time we returned to school they were flourishing and provided colorful, organic subject matter for close looking and sketching.

One addendum to the courtyard story is that one of the students who participated in the summer program as an early middle school student, Melissa W., came back in her senior year of high school and beautified the courtyard once again – this time focusing on the island of plantings in its center. As I see her face in the pictures above, I realize how special her revisit was. And as winter nears it’s physical end in New England right now, savoring these memories makes me believe spring is on its way!



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