In October 2020, SCCF toured the location of a grant from a donor-advised fund. The Ralph E. Taylor Conservation fund was established at SCCF in the year 2003 with the goal of supporting conservation efforts in northeast Indiana. Originally established as a surprise gift for Ralph upon his retirement from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, this fund has provided a meaningful opportunity for his wife, Cheryl, to see his vision lived out after he passed away. This fall, Cheryl saw an example of this in person.
In 2019, the Ralph E. Taylor Conservation Fund awarded a grant to Flint Springs Elementary in Huntington for a courtyard project. A local teacher, John Stoffel, was passionate about building a natural space within the school for the students to enjoy. With the help of grant funding and hard work, today, this courtyard provides plenty of opportunities for the students to get direct experience with nature. A raised garden bed specifically made for growing sensory plants allows students to smell and touch different varieties of herbs. They planted peppermint, lemon sage, and apple geranium. For kids who need a hands-on activity, this provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on something they can smell and touch.
In a different garden bed, students watch the seeds they planted turn into full-grown plants (in some cases). They had a late start due to COVID-19, but the green beans and snap pea plants were bright and blooming. In other sections of the raised bed, students had handwritten “kale” and “arugula” on labels for small, green seedlings. Many of these students do not have the opportunity to learn about planting vegetables at home. This allows them to learn a new skill and develop an appreciation for growing food.
In the prairie area, the native plants were chosen so they could have a variety of blooms spring through fall. The prairie offers an appropriate habitat for monarch butterflies. Students use this to learn about pollinators and the stages from larvae to butterfly. Then, classes use the milkweed plants to look for caterpillars or come out during recess to harvest seeds from the butterfly weed plant. “Sometimes, it’s the most real nature kids see,” shared Principal, BreeAnne Dyer.
The COVID-19 pandemic forcing schools to get creative. Some classes have used the patio area to read books and take a short break from wearing their masks.
Seeing the variety of natural spaces and educational opportunities present in the courtyard, Cheryl stated, “Ralph would say kids need to be outside in nature, like this. He would have loved it.”
The outdoor courtyard is a place for art classes, reading, science, and the opportunity to learn about nature in a hands-on manner. In the future, the school hopes to add exercise stations for gym class and continue expanding the courtyard to supplement the educational opportunities available at Flint Springs.