originally posted in The Bristol Press by Susan Corica on October 23, 2015.
PLYMOUTH–The new Reading Garden at South Side Elementary School is like an outdoor classroom, one with grass instead of a tile floor, wooden benches and colorful Adirondack chairs instead of desks, and a brilliant orange maple tree instead of a whiteboard.
“It’s still in the process of being designed, so teachers haven’t been able to use it yet, but the idea is that instead of always being in the classroom the teacher and kids can come out here,” Gail Zimmermann, staff member at South Side’s Family Resource Center.
“The teacher could read tot he students, they could do activities around the story, or the children could come out and do some silent reading in small groups,” she said. “As long as it’s nice out, in the fall or spring, it’s a classroom in the fresh air.”
“Turning the area of the school grounds facing Wolcott Street and enclosed by a chain link fence into a reading area was originally the idea of the fifth graders in the school’s Community Club,” she explained.
Through the University of Connecticut and the Family Resource Center, Zimmerman runs a parents’ group called People Empowering People, in which members work on a group project to benefit the school or the community at large.
The People Empowering People parents decided to take on the Reading Garden as their project, collecting donations, getting the benches made an planting flowers, she said.
“It’s just about done, but we’ll have an official opening in the spring when the flowers come up,” Zimmermann said.
Parent Christina Wilson said the People Empowering People members brainstormed ideas for the garden last spring and worked hard on it when school began again.
“September and October have been a go go go!” she said.
Wilson and her husband Dan weeded the area and planted a bush, some trees and a bunch of spring bulbs.
Sharon Pratt and her husband Brian built the wooden benches and bolted them to the ground.
Dawn Raymond and her husband Darren, who own Fleetwood Industries in Plainville, donated money to the project.
“We still have a few dollars left to spend and we are not quite done yet,” she said. “We want to work on the gravel path and we’re going to get engraved stepping stones for outside of the fence thanking the people that made the donations.”
True Value Hardware in town donated the four Adirondack chairs, Raymond said. “I drove by there one day and saw them. I said ‘hey I love those chairs, they would look great in our garden! They didn’t even hesitate to offer them to us.”
Fresh Worx and Carvel also made monetary donations to the project.
Erica Myers drew the mural that decorates the fence and gives some privacy from the road. Myers said she only draws casually for fun and she never did anything on this scale before. The other parents helped paint the design she came up with.
There is also a brightly colored butterfly bench, which was donated by school nurse Mary Tomasi, and a plan for a rainbow banner with a Dr. Seuss quote to go on the brick wall on the side of the garden.
Once the cold weather sets in, the chairs, butterfly bench and other furnishings will be taken in for the winter, but will return next spring, Zimmermann said.
Vicky Frye and Francesa Papasso were also part of the [UConn] PEP group that worked on the Reading Garden.