St. Peter School adds outdoor classroom

Second-grade teacher Bonnie Goltz, Principal Chris Trott, and Father Timothy D. Tebalt, administrator of St. Peter Church, speak to students in the new outdoor classroom at St. Peter School in Beaufort April 19.

Second-grade teacher Bonnie Goltz, Principal Chris Trott, and Father Timothy D. Tebalt, administrator of St. Peter Church, speak to students in the new outdoor classroom at St. Peter School in Beaufort April 19.

BEAUFORT—Students at St. Peter School are cultivating a love for nature along with a love of learning. Every other Tuesday, members of the school garden club meet for an hour after classes to take care of their vegetables and flowers, and a new Carolina FenceTM garden featuring plant species native to South Carolina.

Soon, students will be able to enjoy hands-on learning about nature in an outdoor classroom. The covered wooden arbor has a brick tile floor and will include rows of benches.

Second-grade teacher Bonnie Goltz, who gardens as a hobby, started the club nearly two years ago to grow flowers around campus, she said. Membership quickly grew to 45 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and the project evolved to include more than planting a few flowers.

Goltz also started a garden at her former school in Ohio and said the project gives children a chance to learn firsthand about concepts they study in the classroom.

“The kids just love it,” she said. “I never have to mention that there’s a club meeting. They just show up for the Tuesday meetings without being reminded.”

In August, Goltz was researching the Carolina FenceTM project. She saw plans for a small arbor and wondered if it could be expanded into a larger space for the school and parish.

She envisioned it as a place for outdoor learning, special events and prayer services.

Father Timothy D. Tebalt, administrator at St. Peter, gave permission for the project and Goltz announced the outdoor classroom at a Sunday Mass. She said donations came in immediately.

To help raise money, students sold memory sticks, which could be purchased in memory or in honor of someone. The sticks will be planted around the perimeter once it is complete.

The floor was recently finished, but benches still need to be added. A statue of St. Francis of Assisi has been installed, and Goltz said the structure will be dedicated to the saint because he is considered the patron of animals and the environment.

The classroom is located in the midst of the unique Carolina FenceTM garden, which was completed just before Easter.

Goltz and others at the school learned about the idea from the S.C. Wildlife Federation as a way to increase interest in native plants and animals.

Carolina FenceTM gardens include yellow jessamine, which is the state flower; goldenrod, the state wildflower; and Indian grass, the state grass. Not only are the plants beautiful, but they attract butterflies and birds.

Goltz said the garden also includes a Carolina wren house, designed for the state bird, and the students are working to purchase a piece of blue granite, the official state stone.

She said the garden club is a chance for children to learn more about all aspects of gardening, and how their projects complement the environment as a whole. Scraps from the school cafeteria feed earthworms in a compost bin, and Goltz said they recently received a rain barrel from the local Clemson Extension office.

She said the next big effort is to build a water reclamation system so rainwater from the school’s roof can be used in the gardens.

Students are also learning more about helping the environment through a recycling club, which meets on alternate Tuesdays.

The garden club relies on donations for supplies and tools, and Goltz said parents and members of the St. Peter community have been more than willing to give them what they need. Donations have included birdhouses, birdbaths and other items.

“I usually have a lot of support,” she said. “The people here at the school and parish really love the changes the gardens have made.”

Principal Chris Trott said the club and its work have been beneficial to the parish community.

“It’s got everybody, including the parish, involved in a project that’s going to benefit and beautify not only the school campus but the parish campus itself,” Trott said. “They really have put together a great team of dedicated students, parents and other volunteers who have just come through and made our campus so much better than what it was.”