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Lincoln Elementary School builds outdoor classroom, garden

   Lincoln Elementary School has a new outdoor classroom and sustainable garden after two years of teamwork and fundraising.

In the spring of 2018, Lincoln Principal Casey Hartman asked Lincoln parent Tara Mozden to help design an outdoor classroom.

Mozden, who is an outdoor designer, jumped at the chance to help.

She drew up plans to build a classroom off the existing outdoor patio in the back of the school.

The project really blossomed in April 2019 when Evie DeVolder (then a first grader) asked Hartman for permission to add a garden to the outdoor classroom.

With an outdoor classroom already in motion, Hartman agreed to the garden and connected Mozden and DeVolder’s mom, Kelly.

Mozden and Kelly DeVolder worked with Lincoln parent, Vanessa Sula, who has experience with engineering and construction. Things then began moving quickly and a “Lincoln Grows” team was formed.

“We three have fed off one another and have been that catalyst we all needed,” Mozden said.

The team designed four main concepts for the outdoor classroom and garden:

Outdoor Classroom

  • Add shade sails over the tables on the existing patio
  • Add outdoor art/chalkboards

Concrete Enhancements

  • Create interactive concrete design featuring ten-frames, number lines and a U.S. map

Living Lecture

  • Additional outdoor classroom space defined by landscaping
  • Add more chalkboards, flexible seating and tables

Raised sensory/edible beds

  • Custom built raised beds for sensory and edible garden


The garden was also created to be sustainable, Sula said.

“We don’t want this to be a burden on the school where they have to provide things and maintain the upkeep of the garden,” she said.

But, most importantly the outdoor classroom and garden was created to benefit students and teachers.

“Sustainability and environmentalism can be taught year-round through this project,” DeVolder said. “There are so many benefits of being outside. Studies show there are 57 percent less redirects in class if kids get a lesson outside.”

The team relied on fundraising and volunteers to create the garden and enhance the classroom.

DeVolder secured the first grant for the outdoor classroom and garden from nonprofit Action for Healthy Kids.

Soon after, the PTA and the Plainfield Kiwanis Club donated money.

Lincoln Grows also sold T-shirts to fund the garden and outdoor classroom.

“The Lincoln community has done an incredible job coming together and embracing this idea,” DeVolder said.

Students, parents and community members volunteered to spread mulch, build raised beds, assemble chairs and tables and plant the garden.

The Lincoln Grows team hopes other schools in the district will implement an outdoor classroom and garden, Sula said.

“We want to make sure this can be duplicated to the other schools,” she said. “Everyone who is helping with this has kids here, so there is an invested interest to keep this going.”

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