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Outdoor learning space takes root at Rosemount Elementary School

There is a garden at Rosemount Elementary School that has seen better days. It’s a little overgrown. A little neglected. But it just might have a bright future.

That future started to take shape last summer when a group of parents and school employees were doing some upkeep on the garden. They started talking about how they could make better use of the space. Then they started planning. And now they’re hard at work trying to turn those plans into an elaborate outdoor classroom space.

The garden would remain in the new plan, but area around it would be transformed. The project area, located between RES and nearby Rosemount Middle School, would include a platform where teachers could stand and seating for students.

RES principal Tom Idstrom said he likes the idea of creating an outdoor learning space that’s more formal than simply sitting students under a tree.

“I like the idea that it’s a way for us to be able to go outside and use a space on a nice fall day or a nice spring day that would allow a demonstration or a science activity or even an interactive read-aloud,” Idstrom said. “It’s very difficult to take kids outside and expect there to be learning if you find a spot of grass or a playground. There’s too many distractions.”

Jaime Riehle, the parent leading the renovation effort, said the garden could be revamped to include geometric shapes for use in math classes or plants that attract butterflies for biology lessons.

It’s a big project, and it comes with a big price tag. The quote Riehle got was $50,000, and that doesn’t include a pond and waterfall she would like to add. The group behind the project is looking for both cash and in-kind donations to help cover the cost, but there is still a long way to go. They just got their first $500 grant for the project.

Turning this new al fresco classroom from plan to reality will be a long-term process. Riehle hopes to get sprinkler systems installed and some other behind-the-scenes work done over the summer so students have an idea in the fall what the finished project might look like. But, she said, “the pretty stuff, unfortunately, doesn’t happen for a long time.”

Just how long will depend on how quickly donations come in.

Riehle would also like to open the space up for other community events once it is finished.

RES has planned several fundraisers to help pay for the project. There will be a plant sale from April 1-18 in conjunction with Pahl’s market and Gerten’s. Purchases made the last three weeks of May at Pahl’s will also go to the project.

Through May 1 the school will sell Shamrock-shaped $30- to $50 concrete pavers that parents and anyone else who’s interested can customize and have installed in the garden. There will be a community night at which purchasers can decorate their own paver.

For now, Riehle is excited to see the project take shape.

“It’s definitely cool,” Riehle said. “We’ve got a really good group of families that are helping out all the time. It’s a lot of fun.”

Nathan Hansen

Nathan Hansen has been a reporter and editor with the Farmington Independent and the Rosemount Town Pages since 1997. He is very tall.

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