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Barren school yard is barren no more

Photo by Monica Isley Jessica Schneider of the Minnesota Tree Trust shows kindergarteners how to free up the roots of a tree before setting it into the ground. Students spent all day May 21 greening up their campus.

The students were gathered around a large hole in the school yard, when one little girl stopped the action.

"A worm!" she announced at the top of her lungs. "I found a worm!"

She wasn't upset, she was enthralled. So were the other students who were actually supposed to be helping plant trees at Minnehaha School on May 21.

Once it was decided that the worm should go in the hole along with the tree roots, the work continued. Work that was much more like play, and certainly more entertaining than an ordinary classroom.

This was the day the Minnesota Tree Trust showed up to bring to life a plan that the PTA dreamed up almost four years ago. That plan was to turn a barren, boring school yard into one alive with greenery, and beyond that, to build an outdoor classroom.

They began by raising money. Rubber duck derbies and grant-writing, among other things, netted $21,000 to date, according to Melanie Ross, the PTA member who has been the lead cheerleader for the project.

Finally, helped by a $6,000 grant from Cooperative Light and Power, the work began. The holes were pre-dug, and the tree trust arrived with shovels for everyone, water barrels, and experts to work with each classroom of students. The classes took turns throughout the day, with varying degrees of interest.

Some of the students watched, a little leery of all that dirt grubbing. Some plunged right in like latent farmers, wanting to be in on every step of the process.

By the time the day was done, green things were sprouting all around the building, with a spot marked out for two rain gardens that will edge the south side of the planned deck--the outdoor classroom.

Ross was grinning as she described it, the dream so nearly coming true.

"It will be handicapped accessible," she said. "There will be a little pergola, and a weather station that can be read inside in the classrooms." It will also be made of composite, rather than wood, to keep it nearly maintenance free.

Area businesses pledged labor and materials of one sort or another to help keep the costs down. The deck will be built after school is out.

"We wanted to start it right away, but we figured with the equipment it would be best to wait until the kids weren't around," Ross said.

Next year, it's a cinch which classroom is going to be the most popular.