Volunteers create outdoor classroom at Lexington's Edythe J. Hayes Middle School

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comSeptember 28, 2013 

Volunteers shoveling limestone and mulch in a long-barren courtyard at Lexington's Edythe J. Hayes Middle School on Saturday were working toward a vision of a garden filled with student art, butterflies and live performances.

It's anticipated that in coming months, the garden will serve as an outdoor classroom where all regular subjects, along with horticulture courses, will be taught.

The garden is being designed primarily by the school's art teacher Steve Bennett and his wife, artist Laura Mentor. Basic work began last spring.

On Saturday, at least 40 staff members, students, parents, and community members worked on new features such as raised garden beds as part of the Green Apple Day of Service.

Green Apple Day is promoted as a day for service projects at schools, encouraging parents, teachers, students, companies and local organizations to create healthy learning environments that conserve energy and resources.

Bennett said he and his wife were inspired by a courtyard at Lexington's Yates Elementary School, and they hope that the Hayes courtyard will inspire people at other schools.

Eventually, Bennett said, the Hayes garden is expected to include a pavilion and a stage, along with a permanent structure for outdoor learning. A station for studying the weather also is planned, he said.

Sculptures by students will be placed in the garden, and one wall might be used for a clay tile mural that includes work from each student, Bennett said.

"I really feel alarmed when I see that kids are spending so much time inside," Mentor said. "What is better than giving people a beautiful, interesting haven to come out to, and start to see butterflies on native plants, and feed birds, and grow vegetables?"

Mentor envisions art shows or a tea ceremony in conjunction with the Central Kentucky Japanese School that holds classes on the campus.

"My idea was to create a haven in the middle of this school where kids could come out and eat lunch, they could read a book quietly, they could draw and paint, they could also have other experiences that are curriculum-based with their teachers," she said.

Mentor has suggested to teachers that they have students order saplings from the homes of U.S. Presidents for a grove that could be planted at the middle school as part of history lessons.

Science teacher Eric Arthur, who was helping Saturday, said his students will be able to learn about ecosystems and insects' migratory patterns.

Students Nick Reid and Reagan Smith, both 13, shoveled topsoil Saturday.

Nick said he started working on the courtyard last year and was surprised at how many people showed up to help Saturday.

"It will add learning opportunities to Hayes and make it look nice — it just used to be grass," Reagan said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409. Twitter:@vhspears

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