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Litchfield students design courtyard improvements

4/3/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

Shown above is the Litchfield Middle School courtyard in its current state. A $5,000 grant from Lowe’s will allow two eighth-grade classes to address improvements there this spring.
Litchfield Middle School students are shown as they work on their ideas to improve an interior courtyard at the school, which is currently located in the former Perkins Middle School building.
A sketch of the proposed plan to improve the courtyard at Litchfield Middle School is shown above.
Photos courtesy of Jeff Whited
WEST AKRON — Some Litchfield Middle School students are learning more about engineering while helping to beautify their school thanks to a grant their teacher was awarded.

Jeff Whited, who teaches the Gateway to Technology classes at the school on Mull Avenue, said he received $5,000 from Lowe’s as part of the home improvement company’s Toolbox for Education grant program.

The money will allow two classes of eighth-grade students in the pre-engineering classes the chance to see their ideas come to life, Whited said, as they convert an overgrown school courtyard to an outdoor learning space.

“One of the units I teach is design and modeling, where kids try to get the understanding of how things are invented or innovated to solve a problem,” Whited said. “They learn about sketching their design and how to use a three-dimensional CAD [computer-assisted design] program, and a lot of the activity they do when they are given a real world problem, if it was to be produced. That’s where it stops.”

With the grant money, the students will now get to take their ideas and make them real, he added.

“We will create an outdoor classroom, science and garden area, and a wildlife habitat,” he said. “At this point, they are in groups and they have drawn up sketches of what they want and researched different things, like benches, picnic tables and birdhouses. They have come up with a loose budget, and they will create it on the computer as best as possible. Then we’ll have a mock up of what it will look like.”

Whited said the courtyard is about 90 feet by 50 feet and is not accessible from outside the school. The area has been improved over the past 15 years but currently is overgrown and not being used, he added.

Whited was waiting for the weather to improve to begin work on the courtyard and planned to spend a Saturday with a group of volunteers to clean out the area. That is currently scheduled to happen April 5. After that work is done, the students will purchase the items like plants and picnic tables for the courtyard and start working on the project during school hours.

The effort has garnered interest from other students, teachers and parents, Whited said.

“They’re very excited,” he said. “There have been a lot of volunteers. The PTA is very eager to help out where they can. Teachers want to help out.”

One teacher is in a church group that is looking for a project, so they will offer their help, Whited said.

One of Whited’s students, Mica Heffner, said the project is a great way for the students to see how their efforts can make a difference.

“By completing this, we will be helping the environment, exercising, making our school more attractive, and learning that what you do on paper really can happen if you work for it,” she said.

“They’ve come together and wanted to make it a better thing, and give back to other kids who don’t take this class,” Whited said. “It’s been a good learning experience.”

The project will be completed by the end of the school year in June. Whited said he would like to host an event to officially unveil the finished product to the public once it’s complete.

Litchfield is currently housed in the former Perkins Middle School building as construction of its new building is underway along with the new Firestone High School.

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