Providing children with a welcoming school environment is essential to learning, so the Portola Valley Schools Foundation is committed to making both of the District’s campuses comfortable, fun and inviting. The Foundation supports efforts to bring learning outdoors by funding gardens, weather stations, outdoor classrooms and more. Whether the money comes from Endowment grants, paddle raises at the biennial fundraiser, or Annual Campaign giving, some improvements that catch the eye – and students’ imaginations – include:
TK/K Chicken Coop
After years of tough love from adoring kindergarteners, the Ormondale chicken coop needed improvements. A 2019 grant from the Portola Valley Schools Foundation Endowment Fund helped the District upgrade the “Chicken Love” program so that another decade of young learners will benefit from the hands-on teaching opportunities it provides.
The grant provided for four new incubators to hatch chicks in each of the TK and kindergarten classrooms, outdoor bulletin and chalk boards to display life cycle diagrams and tally the eggs laid, gopher wire to prevent predators from getting in, safer steps to enter, a new feeding system to keep food dry and rodents out, a shed to protect the kids’ rain boots and tools, and more. It also paid for a compost bin to transform the chicken poop into compost for the 2nd grade garden on the other side of campus.
“The health benefits of cooking with more nutritious and tastier eggs from our own personal hens teaches little ones the importance of natural life cycles, a connection to healthy living, and greater appreciation for the environment,” the kindergarten teachers wrote in their grant. ”By becoming better stewards of the earth, students develop self-confidence, discipline and skills to become respectful citizens toward animals.”
With a grant from the Portola Valley Schools Foundation Endowment Fund and many helpful hands during the 2019 campus cleanup day, parent Brook Coffee of Coffee Grounds Edible Gardens is bringing the Corte Madera school garden back to life, literally and figuratively speaking.
Coffee created a lunchtime garden club that meets twice weekly for students who want to learn about cultivating seeds, composting and mulching. The kids hung bird boxes, put in plants for pollinators, and took part in citizen science projects.
“The garden provides a calming space for students who like to be outside but not surrounded by the noise and physical play on the yard,” Kristen Shima wrote in the grant application. “Many students need a quiet place to relax and have down time during the school day.”
Or as 5th grade student Jack Day put it, “I’m so glad the garden is open because I get really tired of playing tag.”
Garden Thyme Expansion
The 2nd grade garden program at Ormondale has been such a success – and so popular among students and parents alike – that the District wanted to expand it.
With money raised during the Portola Valley Schools Foundation fundraiser in spring 2019, organizer Brook Coffee had kindergarteners through 3rd graders planting edible landscaping from the TK classrooms to the music room. They cultivated pomegranate trees, purple sprouting broccoli, kale, fava beans, beets, turnips, carrots and more. There even were violas in the school colors of blue and white, and nasturtiums in honor of beloved Spanish teacher Señora Covotta.
In addition, the 3rd graders planted a pollinator garden and grew garlic to keep the squirrels away. The snap peas grew so fast that Coffee held a contest to see which was taller: her students or the plants.
Says Coffee, “They’re constantly making green tacos out of fava bean leaves, mizuna and edible flowers. I mean, what kid even knows what mizuna is, and now it’s their favorite food!”
Mosaics and Art Installation Course
Art teacher Brigid Horgan debated skipping the traditional 8th grade mosaic course in 2019 because the upcoming campus reconstruction will impact the wall space she intended to use. But the annual art installation has become such an anticipated rite of passage for the graduating class that she couldn’t bear to let this year’s students leave Corte Madera without their own artistic legacy. So she applied for a grant from the Portola Valley Schools Foundation Endowment Fund for four free-standing sculptural heart forms that her students decorated and placed around campus as a beautification project. Her class is learning about important mosaics throughout world history and will model theirs on the “Hearts in San Francisco” project.
“The 8th grade Mosaics students are really excited to design and create art that will be placed around campus,” Horgan said, “knowing these sculptures will remain a part of CMS long after they graduate.”
Over the years, the Portola Valley Schools Foundation’s donors have given generously toward playground equipment to ensure that our students can get the willies and the jitters out during recess and lunch. The physical break from the difficult intellectual task of learning is essential to the development of their minds. Plus … it makes school fun. What parent hasn’t asked their children what the best part of the school day was and heard the response, “Recess!”
Not all kids like to run, jump and climb. For some, sitting quietly and chatting with friends clears the mind and readies it for the rigors of the afternoon. That’s why the Foundation made sure to include some remote spaces where children with a quiet temperament can get away from the noise and chaos of the central campus areas to just be.
New Rocking Chairs
There’s nothing better than a rocking chair to calm kids down. So why not 25 of them?
With a 2019 grant from the Portola Valley Schools Foundation Endowment Fund, Ormondale Librarian Suzy Dickinson purchased new rocking chairs to replace the old ones, which were torn and worn out from too much use. The new ones are easier to clean and stackable so she can put them away when they aren’t in use.
“Judging by the rockin’ and rollin’ in our library, the kids are loving them,” Dickinson said. “Children are naturally active and busy. It just makes sense that they would enjoy rocking while they read.”