Outdoor classroom debuts at Tampa-area school, thanks to TurfMutt grant

Thanks to a $10,000 grant from TurfMutt, an environmental stewardship and education program managed by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute (OPEI) Research and Education Foundation, and Massey Services, headquartered in Orlando, Fla., a new outdoor classroom is debuting at Guardian Angels Catholic School in Clearwater, Fla., and is ready to help kids learn valuable science, math and other lessons about the environment and living landscapes. A dedication ceremony took place at the school on November 9.

The new outdoor space is the result of one fifth-grader’s creativity and hard work. Student Marissa Weber of Palm Harbor, Fla., won the TurfMutt “Be a Backyard Superhero” contest earlier this year. Weber’s winning entry was a story depicting TurfMutt and the Outdoor Powers, along with her original character “Earthy the Worm,” fighting Dust Demon, a TurfMutt-branded evil character, to encourage healthy soil.

The contest is sponsored annually by TurfMutt, which inspires and educates students in grades K-5 and their families, encouraging them to appreciate and care for the green spaces around them, including their family yards, school yards, parks and more.

“We had more than a thousand outstanding entries this year, but Marissa Weber’s really stood out,” said Kris Kiser, president and CEO of OPEI. “It demonstrated imagination and a commitment to caring for green spaces.” The TurfMutt program was inspired by Kiser’s rescue dog, Lucky, which is the program’s “spokesdog.”

As a result of Weber’s win, her teacher, Sandra Hoolihan, was presented with the first-ever National TurfMutt Teacher Award and a trip to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) annual convention in spring 2017.

“The TurfMutt program is a terrific way for kids to learn science lessons right outside their back door and in the schoolyard,” said Sandra Hoolihan. “I appreciate that Marissa’s winning entry provided the school and students with so many educational benefits. It also gave me the chance to attend the NSTA Convention in California, where I was able to present and share my experience with other science educators from across the country and encourage them to bring the same opportunity to their students.”

Massey Services installed the outdoor classroom and added significant value to enhance the school’s yard. The Massey team created a courtyard and learning garden renovation that were designed to be safe, water efficient, have minimal pest impact, and encourage the learning process. Additionally, the new design and the material used will significantly reduce the issues that were present when the project started, including flying, biting and stinging insects; harborage areas for pests; and forage paths for rodents. “We were very excited to be part of this project and are very pleased with the results,” said Tony Massey, president of Massey Services. “Additionally, we have also arranged to provide ongoing education support to the educators responsible for utilizing the learning garden during the school year.”

“The timing of this wonderful prize couldn’t have been better,” said Mary Stalzer, principal of Guardian Angels Catholic School. “As part of Guardian Angels’ STREAM initiative, students are studying the relationships between soil quality, plant groups, and insects. The addition of the improved greenspace and irrigated garden gives us the outdoor classroom needed to provide meaningful learning experiences for children at every grade level.”