Orchestrating Incremental Improvements

This post is excerpted from the Community Design Collaborative’s Transforming Philadelphia’s Schoolyards Guide.  Cook-Wissahickon was one of three Philadelphia elementary schools honored this year by the CDC for its work to transform its campus.  We are grateful to them for all their support in helping to create our school’s initial Green Plan. Read more on their website:  http://www.cdesignc.org/guides/schoolyards

Cook-Wissahickon School

The Collaborative helped Cook-Wissahickon School to think big about transforming its schoolyard, even if implemen­tation started out small. The group focused on a core element of the conceptual plan—turning a standard lawn into a living, breathing meadow full of pos­sibilities for learning. Cook Wiss beforeBringing neighbors on board: Initially some neighbors were skeptical—seeing the meadow as an eyesore or a haven for rats. But community meetings transformed a potentially divisive issue. Some of these same neighbors are now advocates.

The Collaborative’s partner in this effort was the Wissahickon Sustainability Council (WSC)—a green committee of the Home and School Association comprised of families, teachers, and neighbors committed a broader vision for greening. The master plan that emerged from the conceptual design process empowered WSC to secure several partners for the meadow project, including the Philadelphia Water Department, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, and the Schuylkill River Restoration Fund, which provided a grant and matching funds in 2012. The conceptual plan for this unique site became the catalyst for a wider greening movement at the school—beyond the yard to the building and the curriculum. The group has continued to make headway on a series of smaller projects, such as planting beds, a tree nursery, and a magnolia grove.

“The plan has allowed WSC to move forward swiftly and confidently to cultivate partners that have helped us achieve our initial goals. There was always a next step that seemed doable, even on a less-than-grand scale.” Jeanne Ortiz, co-founder/president of the WSC

Students made observations during their outdoor journaling reflecting their sense of connection to the meadow:

  • “The meadow makes a good place for animals to live. It has lots of butterflies.”
  • “I saw bees collecting pollen from the Black-Eyed Susans.”
  • “The sound of the crickets makes the meadow sound alive.”