Grant Elementary School has been awarded a $5,000 grant from PG&E's Bright Ideas Program to transform an empty courtyard into a living classroom and learning garden to teach standards-based science and environmental education.

Designed collaboratively, with input from teachers, parents and students, it will contain numerous learning stations and opportunities for hands-on engagement, and will also include a semi-circle of seating to facilitate presentations. The living classroom will incorporate a water catchment system with solar pump for use throughout the garden, a raised compost area for green waste and lunch scraps recycling, portable solar ovens for curriculum use, dwarf fruit trees for shade and fruit, planter boxes filled with herbs and edibles, and low maintenancenative habitat landscaping featuring a xeriscape area.

All grade levels (399 students) will enjoy innovative learning in the dynamic garden environment where they will observe and interact with the natural world.

"This will instill in children an environmental awareness far greater and more directly than is possible in a traditional classroom, which is our primary reason for undertaking this project," says parent and lead fundraiser, Aimee Vorhaus. "The proposed living classroom will be a cornerstone of the school's broader initiative to foster the leaders and stewards of tomorrow."

The courtyard is currently unused, empty space. With the project, it will be developed to accommodate diverse ways of learning science and studying the environment, with hands on, inquiry based lessons.

Teacher Julia Megna notes, "We envision the living classroom as a rich environment with diverse learning hubs, featuring a sunburst shaped presentation area, models of solar energy use, a weather station, sundial, and a sun-baked cob bench. Students will learn about environmental sustainability through investigation and experimentation."

The living classroom also encourages partnerships with the broader community. For example, Casa Grande High School environmental science teacher, John Shribbs, leader of the Outdoor Learning Environment program, has plans to bring his AP students to provide solar-oven building workshops for Grant's fifth- and sixth-grade students.

Grant additionally received a Petaluma Education Foundation Enrichment Grant, and funding from the Petaluma Garden Club to complete the project.

Ground breaking is planned for late this month.