Windsor High School gifted and talented students get things done

By Colin Rajala - Staff Writer
Windsor - posted Thu., Mar. 21, 2013
operation-courtyard. Contributed.
Windsor High School Principal Russell Sills speaks to the 'Operation Courtyard' group members in the courtyard. Photo contributed.

In the heart of Windsor High School lies an open courtyard which was once filled with scenic trees and shrubbery but has fallen into a state of disrepair after the devastating effects of harsh storms left the space inaccessible. The barren courtyard with an occasional patch of weeds will soon change, thanks in part to a collaborative effort spear-headed by students enrolled in the Seminar Program, the school’s gifted and talented program.

"Operation Courtyard" started out as a Seminar III project for Kaitlyn Ali, Shanai Chambers, Jeremy Fredette and Dan Hammersmith in the Community Problem Solvers competition, but quickly took off into a tangible project and a learning experience that they say has taught them many life lessons.

“It shows we're not just a bunch of kids and we can get things done,” Ali said. “I know a lot of adults like to think that we cannot do big projects [or] get things under control and [that] we have bad time management, but we're actually sticking to our plan. We’ve been working well as a team, and we can do exactly what they do.”

The courtyard beautification project is set to take place after Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation awarded the seminar group a $5,000 "Toolbox for Education" grant. Windsor High School is one of more than 1,100 schools or parent organizations to be awarded the grant, which aids improvement projects benefiting K-12 public education across the United States. 

The group used a decision-making grid they learned about in the class to select an educational courtyard over a memorial garden after reasoning that outdoor educational spaces have a positive effect on learning and studies have shown these spaces help improve students’ test scores.

“We chose the courtyard because it will have the greatest effect on our school in a positive way,” said Chambers. “It’s at the heart of the school, and everyone looks out at it, and we want people to look out at it and be proud of our school. Right now it just doesn’t convey that.”

After the decision was made to revamp the courtyard, the students created a courtyard planning committee, which consisted of a representative from each department within the school, as well as administrators. Through the planning committee, the group learned what teachers thought would be useful and educational moving forward. The group also surveyed the students in the school to get their take on what they would like the space to look like.

After the group collected ideas, they asked senior design student Jean Ersando to help design blueprints and layouts of the space. As the students recognized the size and scope of the project, they realized the school’s budget was not going to be able to cover the work necessary, so they brought on senior Nick Chapman to help secure grants. Around this time, students searched for and located a contractor to work on the project - resident Bill Kittredge.

“There’s more to learning during high school than math and English,” Hammersmith said. “It’s important to do abstract learning outside of the typical classroom."

Everything has panned out to date for the students, and the next step of the project will be the biggest step - getting into the courtyard. Over April vacation, two sets of double doors will be installed to gain access into the courtyard. Most of the work in the courtyard will take place over the summer. The group hopes the Lowe’s grant will cover the installation of walkways and grass as well as a few special installations.

Within the project the group wants to add a large pergola for classes to use for shade when they use the courtyard for an outdoor class. The courtyard will include an herb garden, which will be used by the culinary students and an arboretum for the Latin classes. The group is excited to see an amphitheater constructed in the courtyard to be used by various classes, as well as performances by the band and drama club and even by the town. The group would also like to include a warrior garden for the Special Education Department, a small memorial garden and a space for student artwork on display. The students understand that not all of the projects will be covered by the grant, but they hope to get the most out of the money and want to see the installations and projects continue on even after they graduate from the school.

“We want kids to know they can make a difference in their school because we did,” Chambers said. “Hard work can be fun. I want our school can be proud of it because we are really proud of it.’

For more information on the project visit, www.facebook.com/WHSOperationCourtyard.


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