Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Panther Patch


This outdoor learning area was designed with teachers and students in mind and built by PTA volunteers in cooperation with the Midway ISD Maintenance Department. Funding for this $23,000 project came from the 2008-09 PTA fall fundraiser and a $2000 dollar donation from Big Creek Construction Inc. The Panther Patch is dedicated to Principal Maudie Monroe and the students of Spring Valley Elementary.

The following is a brief description of our facility and it’s development.

After securing the perimeter with fencing and building a gated brick column entrance, the Panther Patch committee focused on enhancing four main learning areas.
Each area seats up to 24 students and functions as a stand-alone outdoor classroom. Below is a description of each of these areas.

The Slab The existing slab was improved by the addition of four picnic tables and two commercial grade outdoor trash receptacles.

The picnic tables will easily accommodate an entire class for lunch or for messy art or science projects. The existing map of the United States offers endless educational possibilities. PTA plans to plant a tree just outside the fence to commemorate PTA’s 100th year of service in Texas. This tree will someday offer shade to this area. Until then, we have a set of four 9ft umbrellas and stands to use with the picnic tables, if it isn’t too windy.

The Big Creek Beds Our grade level planting beds were named in honor of Big Creek Construction Inc. for it’s generous donations of material, labor and financial backing.

There are two 10ft x 4ft raised planting beds for each grade level, totaling ten beds all together. Each teacher/class will plant and maintain a section of the grade level bed according to their curriculum. The beds were built so that children can sit on the sides and reach across them to plant. Each teacher directs what is planted in their classes’ section with optional help from our Panther Patch Posse, or our grade level Garden Moms.

Next to the planting beds is the garden shed.

The shed houses our portable garden sink, wheelbarrow and teacher and class sets of tools.
We have a class set of small hand tools for younger children, a class set of larger hand tools for older children and a complete class set of kid sized long handle shovels, rakes and hoes. There is also a full set of adult tools, a toolbox, scissors, gloves, knee pads, and other useful outdoor equipment available for our teachers and volunteers. The PTA maintains the shed.

The Ampi-Classroom Our ampi-theater classroom is composed of a semi-circle of quarry block benches that seat 20-24 students.

A lightweight movable “teacher bench” that can convert into a table is at the center of the semicircle. The ampi-classroom sits in pea gravel and is shaded by a big live oak tree or the adjacent building most of the day. The planters of climbing jasmine backed by lattice screens will make a great backdrop for outdoor readings, dramas, or lectures.

The Triangle Working with Thomas Yourman, a castle stone retaining wall and a 20ft native plant butterfly bed was built in this underutilized area. Our own Mrs. Kinsey and Mrs. Ridlehuber lovingly planted and maintain this bed for us.

They have chosen mostly native plants known to attract butterflies.

We also have a few butterfly feeders to encourage our delicate winged friends to visit often. Several park benches, a solar birdbath, a gazebo style bird feeder and a paverstone walkway make this an enjoyable, usable space. A whimsical metal tree, a 20ft awning, garden chimes and a pretty window box garden round out our improvements to the Panther Patch triangle.

Other Areas of Interest in the Panther Patch:
The Weather Pole

Equipped with a rain gauge, hygrometer, barometer, thermometer and working weather vane, the weather pole allows classes to track and record changes in the wind and weather. We hope this will allow students to become more in tune with atmospheric conditions and encourage further scientific study.

Our Garden Friends
The Panther Patch is home to several fun characters. Tracy the Tree is our resident Live Oak.

She shelters and shades many areas. Tracy is a bit two faced and likes to keep an eye on both sides of The Panther Patch at all times. Tracy is also home to our ladybug house.

We will release ladybugs twice a year to combat aphids and other pesky insects that could harm our plants.
The ladybug house offers shelter and encourages ladybugs to stick around a bit longer to fight pest.

Just across from the ladybug house at the bottom of the arbor you will find PAX, the P Patch’s baby panther.

Pax is out in the open now, but he hopes the Carolina Jasmine will soon cover him so he can sneak up on the 64-inch bird just across the way.

Gerty the Garden Bird
stands watch over all the grade level gardens. She isn’t much of a scarecrow, but she has been known to intimidate a few rabbits. We are always on the look out for more friends to bring home to The Panther Patch.

Whether it’s creative writing, math, science, reading or the arts being taught, students and teacher alike benefit from incorporating nature into the lesson plan. We hope Spring Valley enjoys The Panther Patch for many years to come.

The Panther Patch Committee
Emily Christian, Stephanie Grosz, Kristi Miller & Sarah Iannuccilli